After spending most of the season fairly cold from three-point territory, Marquette hit three deep-balls in a span of just over two minutes, including two by freshman David Cubillan. The Golden Eagles' keen marksmanship coincided with an Oakland scoring drought that lasted 5:42. In that time Marquette went on a 13-0 run that broke the game open. Marquette began the run up one at 44-43 with 16:44 to play. Dominique James iced it with a three of his own with 7:10 remaining in the game to give Marquette an 18-point advantage.
Said James, "We got a lot of efficient three-point field goals and it came as a result of guys penetrating. It just opened things up from outside. Ousmane did a great job from finishing down low. And when Ouse finishes down low it opens up a lot of shots."
Despite being guarded by Oakland's physical forward, Shawn Hope, Barro was able to find the basket consistently. He scored 11 points, including a monstrous dunk off a James feed with 14:31 remaining in the second half.
As much as the second half keyed on Marquette's three-point shooting and team offense, the first half keyed on the play of Jerel McNeal. In 16 first-half minutes, McNeal tallied 14 points. He also registered three assists, all to Barro, and three steals. Two of those steals came in a pivotal stretch where McNeal helped force four Oakland turnovers that swung the score from a 25-30 Marquette deficit to a 32-30 lead. McNeal's jumper with 5:13 gave the Golden Eagles their first lead since the opening minutes and it was a lead they would not relinquish. At the end of the night, McNeal accounted for 17 points, 18 deflections, and 6 steals.
"There's a guy that is really bringing his practice game to the court," Head Coach Tom Crean said of McNeal. "He's been at another level defensively in practice."
It was also a special night for Dominique James. Natasha Snyder, a graduate of James' alma mater, Richmond (IN) High, was courtside for the pre-game introductions. Snyder, who is afflicted with cerebral palsy and confined to a wheelchair, continued a tradition that carried throughout James' prep career by slapping hands with the sophomore guard as his number was called by the public address announcer. This was the first time Snyder has seen James play at Marquette.
"Having her here means a whole lot to me," admitted James. "I'm very lucky to have someone like that in my life."
James certainly played inspired basketball in the second half. He tallied nine points and four assists while moving the ball well with consistency after halftime, and he finished with 20 points and 9 assists for the game.
Most of 12,605 at the Bradley Center focused their attention on a different guest, however. Former Marquette player and current Miami Heat star Dwayne Wade sat courtside behind Marquette's basket. When Wade's image flashed across the scoreboard it drew a standing ovation from the crowd.
The Golden Eagles fell behind early in the contest by turning the ball over. Oakland scored 14 points off Marquette miscues. But the home team countered by out-rebounding their opponents 35-27 and scoring 27 points off the fast-break. On the other end, Marquette shut down Oakland's transition game, allowing them no fast-break points at all.
"Our guys were prepared to play against a hard-nosed, physical, battle tested team," commented Crean, "and I'm really proud of their effort."
Marquette is in action again on Friday when they take on Morgan State. Tip off is set for 7:30 at the Bradley Center.
**Jeff Wolf is a freshman majoring in Advertising.