Behind a career high 25 points from Jerel McNeal, Marquette defeated Morgan State 77-57 in front of 13,207 fans at the Bradley Center. McNeal also tallied seven assists and added four steals to his nation leading total of 46.
"I feel like I have been doing the same things all year long," said McNeal of his performance. "Now, the shots are starting to fall."
"He (McNeal) is one of the most underrated players in the country," added teammate Wesley Matthews, who chipped in eight points and six assists. "He is a great defensive and offensive player and it showed tonight."
Up 27-17 with just over seven minutes left in the first half, McNeal went on a 7-0 run himself that included a jumper, a three pointer, and was capped off by a signature steal with a fast break lay up.
"A lot of it tonight was just anticipation," he added. "Also, what the other guys did defensively helped me get a few steals in rotation."
Maligned at some points during his career for his sometimes erratic and inconsistent play, McNeal has now scored in double figures in 10 straight contests dating back to the North Dakota State game.
Marquette built a lead as large as 24 with 4:31 left in the second half off a lay-up by Lawrence Blackledge. Blackledge played a career high 17 minutes and according to Crean, brought an important an intangible to the Golden Eagles' multi-faceted attack.
"We wanted to get him in early," said Crean of Blackledge, who played eight minutes in the first frame and started the second half. "He was aggressive and brought an energy that was important to us."
Blackledge's contributions have not gone unnoticed, as his teammates are getting used to the playing with the lanky 6-8 forward.
Added McNeal, "He has been practicing really well lately and he made the best of his minutes. What he has been working on in practice carried over into the game. Tonight was a tribute to how hard he has been working."
The Marquette players were sent home for the holidays Friday night and will not return until Tuesday, where they will resume practice and host Savannah State on Saturday, December 30.
"They deserve a break," said Crean. "We are 12-2 and our guys need some rest. They will come back ready to go at it again."
**Andrew Sharos is a double major senior, majoring in History and Secondary education. Andrew is also the Head Student Writer for MarquetteHoops.com.
**Jeff Wolf is a freshman majoring in Advertising.