For the first eleven games of the season, Marquette has started three true freshmen guards. Wesley Matthews, Jerel McNeal, and Dominic James have made significant strides to pace Marquette's 8-3 start, but none have contributed the way they did in Monday evenings 90-69 victory over Oakland (4-4). The Big Three chipped in 21, 18, and 17 points respectively and helped pace a Marquette offense that scored 44 points in the paint and 36 points off turnovers.
After the Grizzlies took a 17-12 lead in the first half, Marquette tore through the last eleven minutes a 32-11 run. The Golden Eagle spurt was highlighted by threes from McNeal, James, and Dan Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald also used his 6-9 frame to hold Calvin Wooten, Oakland's leading scorer, to just two first half points on one of five shooting. MU took a 44-32 lead into the locker room.
Marquette couldn't keep the 6-1 Wooten down for long, however, as his transition three-pointer with 15:03 left in the second half capped his own 13 point outburst to start the period. A lay-up by Oakland's Vova Severovas with 13:45 left tied the game at 49. It was then that the freshmen took over.
"In the midst of their 17-1 run, our energy level was still strong," said Head Coach Tom Crean. "This was a good, solid win for us after a short turnaround playing on Saturday."
Matthews scored 16 of his career high 21 points in the second half. He also chipped in a crucial three pointer with 9:20 left that put the game away for good. After another Calvin Wooten three-pointer cut the Marquette lead to 61-54, Joe Chapman's shoe fell off and Marquette was forced to run their offensive set playing four on five. After twenty seconds of playing "keep away," Jamil Lott found an open Matthews in the corner and he buried the first of his three treys.
"It's easy to shoot when your team and your coach have confidence in you. It makes it easier to just go out any play," said Matthews.
And play, the freshmen did.
The second half was filled with crowd pleasing dunks, alley oops, and easy lay-ins. James got to the rack for three dunks, one of which was a lob pass from McNeal. McNeal finished with five assists to compliment James' four. Marquette was also able to turn 22 Oakland turnovers into 19 fast break points. The up-tempo style of play led to 46 second half points on 52 percent shooting.
"That's what we love to do," said Matthews of turning good defense into transition points. "That's what we like to pride ourselves on; it makes the game a lot more fun."
The play of Dan Fitzgerald and Mike Kinsella also contributed to the Golden Eagle cause. Fitzgerald seemed to be the only one who could stop Wooten, using his quick feet to keep Wooten from driving, and his long reach to prevent easy looks from beyond the arc. Kinsella only tallied three points and grabbed one rebound in his 16 minutes, but he brought a great defensive post presence and redirected a Rick Billings floater into the Bradley Center's fourth row during the tight first half.
"We really wanted to get him in the game Saturday, but we didn't, so we made the determination to get him minutes today," said Crean of Kinsella's season high in minutes. "He has been working really hard in practice and I think he deserved it."
If Marquette plans on making any noise in their inaugural Big East season, it will take night in and night out production from the freshmen and continued support from the role players. The Golden Eagles will look to add to their 8-3 record as they square off against Delaware State and Lewis next week, before their January 3rd showdown with #2 Connecticut.
Freshmen Trio Trounce Grizzlies, MU 90 Oak 69
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