David Cubillan came off the bench to score a career high 20 points, including 11 points in the game's last 1:39 to ice the victory for MU. Wesley Matthews also chipped in 20 and Dominic James added 8 points and 10 assists. The victory was just the second in MU's last six games.
"We could not ask for a better atmosphere," said Matthews. "Everybody was telling me I had to step up, and really, everybody made great plays."
In the first half, Marquette built a lead as large as 14 thanks to a blazing 52% shooting form the floor and 50% shooting from behind the arc. Matthews scored 12 of his 20 points in the first frame and helped pace an MU offense that attacked the Panthers, scoring 32 total points in the paint.
"We had to defend better," said Pitt coach Jamie Dixon, whose #11 Panthers fell to 25-6. "We also did not play the penetration very well even though it was something we talked about."
"Everything was in place," he added. "We were playing for a Big East championship; sometimes they make shots and you don't, but I was proud of the way we fought back."
Key to the first half success was the defensive effort on Panther center Aaron Gray, who was held to just four points. Though Gray scored 18 in total and added 13 rebounds, he was continually double and triple teamed out of MU's stifling zone defense and was a relative non-factor in the outcome.
"Every game we have played with Pittsburgh has been a great game," said Marquette coach Tom Crean, who is 4-1 career against Pitt. "Our guys rose to the challenge tonight without one of our best players. Our resiliency, desire and focus really came out today."
The Golden Eagles built a lead as large as 17 by the 17:57 mark in the second half, but Pitt crept within four with two minutes left in the contest. With the shot clock winding down, Cubillan buried a deep three in the left corner to give Marquette some breathing room.
"It was my teammates," said Cubillan when asked to describe the shot. "They saw me open and I just made the shot."
David Cubillan with a career high 20 points
Marquette now travels to New York for the Big East Tournament. MU will likely face Louisiville in the third time this season. The two teams split their meetings already this season, with the road team winning each time. However, they will probably go forward without McNeal, who injured his thumb in Friday's practice. Crean said he was not sure how much time McNeal would miss, refusing to speculate on the extent of the injury.
"Everybody has to step their game up," added Matthews. If we don't have Jerel, we can still do this. I still think we are a great team."
A sellout, record setting crowd of 19,021 enjoyed a halftime commemoration of the 1977 championship team as well as a post game tribute to seniors Mike Kinsella, Jamil Lott, Craig Kuphall and Jimmy McGuire.
**Andrew Sharos is a senior double majoring in History and Secondary Education. Andrew is also the Head Student Writer for MarquetteHoops.com.