That mission? To seek and destroy the Syracuse offense.
In the first half, McNeal achieved great success on this front recording four steals and eleven total points 6 of them off of turnovers.
Lost in the shuffle of McNeal's first half was the first start at Marquette of 6'6" freshman forward Lazar Hayward. Hayward played 11 minutes of the first half and was 2-2 on field goals for seven total points.
Also not to be overlooked in a good first half for Marquette was their defense. In the first half, playing a mix of zone and man-to-man, Marquette held Demetris Nichols, the Big East's and Syracuse's leading three point shooter to 1-4 from beyond the arc and 3-8 overall. Sophomore guard Eric Devendorf led the Orange in scoring at the half with 9 points on 4-8 shooting.
Marquette ended the first half with a Dominic James no-footer to take the lead 29-28.
Winds of change blew through across the Al McGuire Court as the second half proved much different for the Marquette squad thanks to their continued inability to rebound the ball. At the half, the Orange held a 1 rebound advantage over the Eagles, this margin would widen to 38-31 at the 3:49 mark and 44-39 at the buzzer.
Marquette's woes at the free throw line would also continue as the Eagles shot just 6-15 for the game or 40%. In addition to the free throw woes, Marquette shot just 19% from beyond the arc which was not much better than Syracuse's 21.4%. The leading scorer for the Orange was Eric Devendorf, who had 20 points. Devendorf enjoyed a brief interaction with the Marquette student section prompting a chorus of cat-calls and boos.
"We knew we had to keep James outside, and not let him get into the lane," said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, this was obvious when looking at the stat sheet which showed James at 0-7 from beyond the arc and 3-12 overall. He continued, "We got out on the shooters, when they did look for the jumper, we got out on them." The Syracuse defense contributed to 23 turnovers for Marquette which Syracuse converted into 27 points.
The second half saw Marquette shooting twelve three-pointers; this was much to the chagrin of Marquette coach Tom Crean who said, "We need to play with the mindset of getting the ball to the rim and getting drop-off passes."
Syracuse pulled the game out 70-58 after key offensive possessions which saw Big East three-point leader Demitris Nichols drain a step back three pointer.
"We just couldn't quite capture the momentum," Crean said regarding Marquette's failure to convert on a number of key possessions in the second half.
The loss drops Marquette to 13-4 and 0-2 in the Big East conference. The conference season does not get any easier for Marquette as they travel to Connecticut, where they will face a motivated UConn team looking to avenge a drubbing at the hands of the Golden Eagles in 2006.
**Andrew Phillips is a senior majoring in Political Science and is also a member of the Marquette Band!