McNeal scores 21 points to lead Marquette to 67-54 victory over Seton Hall in Big East
NEW YORK (AP)—Despite the difference in seedings, Marquette coach Tom Crean knew his team was going to have its hands full with Seton Hall in the opening round of the Big East tournament.
He was right for 35 minutes.
Jerel McNeal scored 21 points and the 25th-ranked Golden Eagles held Seton Hall scoreless over the final 5 minutes of a 67-54 victory Wednesday night.
“We knew we were going to get their best shot, which we did,” Crean said. “They had a great game plan and it took us a little while to settle into it. We showed incredible maturity in the second half as we continued to be in the attack mode.”
The sixth-seeded Golden Eagles (23-8) will play third-seeded and 14th-ranked Notre Dame in the quarterfinals on Thursday night.
Both teams struggled offensively with Marquette shooting 34.4 percent (22-for-64), while Seton Hall shot 33.9 percent (20-for-59) so there were plenty of rebounds available and the bulk of those went to Marquette.
The Golden Eagles finished with a 56-37 rebound advantage, including 25-13 on the offensive end. All three of Seton Hall’s big men fouled out.
“The number one key was our ability to rebound the basketball and we did a fantastic job of that,” Crean said. “We don’t have a lot of size so we had to do it with heart.”
The Pirates were within 57-54 before coming up empty on their last 10 possessions. The Golden Eagles closed with a 10-0 run.
“We went a little smaller down the stretch to help us with switching and our guys really locked in on what they wanted to do,” Crean said.
Jamar Nutter and Eugene Harvey both had 15 points for Seton Hall (17-15), which lost its fourth straight overall and third this season to Marquette. This was the Pirates’ fourth straight first-round loss in the Big East and they have lost five in a row at Madison Square Garden.
“Our game plan was terrific in that we ran back in transition and the way we played the zone,” Seton Hall coach Bobby Gonzalez said. “But we got outrebounded by 19 and our big guys all fouled out.”
Lazar Hayward had 15 points and 10 rebounds for Marquette, while Dominic James added 11 points.
Reserve guard Maurice Acker had five points but they all came in the final 5:36. He hit Marquette’s only 3-pointer of the second half to give the Golden Eagles a 57-53 lead, and his driving jumper as the shot clock expired made it 62-54 with 2:38 to go.
“We couldn’t get over the hump and then you saw the difference in their depth over the last 5 minutes when you see Acker come in and hit a big 3 for them,” Gonzalez said.
Marquette, which struggled from the field in the previous two games with Seton Hall, finished 3-for-17 from 3-point range.
Brian Laing, the Pirates’ leading scorer with a 19.0 average, finished with six points on 3-for-10 shooting. Seton Hall was 4-for-20 from behind the arc.
“They played aggressively and did a lot of switching and made it hard for me to get any open looks,” Laing said.