McNeal, MU Hold Off Silverswords

In the opener of the 2007 EA Sports Maui Invitational, Marquette's defense prevailed in a game that was too close for comfort.

LAHAINA, HAWAII – Jerel McNeal carried Marquette to a 74-63 victory over host Chaminade in the opening game of the 2007 EA Sports Maui Invitational Monday morning at the Lahaina Civic Center.

McNeal led all scorers with 22 points on 10-14 shooting, and his play in the final five minutes proved to be the deciding factor. With Marquette's lead down to three, at 61-57 with 5:00 to play, McNeal converted three straight baskets, the final one a two-handed dunk assisted by Dominic James. A steal by McNeal on the next possession led to a Lazar Hayward basket, increasing the Marquette lead to 69-57 with 3:23 to play and effectively putting the game out of reach.

"Jerel did an excellent job of playing with fouls and coming in and using his force," said Head Coach Tom Crean.

Early in the contest it was Hayward, starting his first game of the season, who went on a run by himself to give Marquette the advantage. The sophomore forward scored three straight baskets to give himself eight points and his team a 10-5 advantage at the 12:35 mark. Hayward finished with 15 points.

"I think Lazar has earned [a starting spot]," said Crean. "Lazar played excellent coming off the bench. Lazar has been one of the most improved players I've ever been around from year to year."

From there, fellow sophomore David Cubillan propelled the Golden Eagles. Cubillan hit his second three point shot of the game at the 9:48 mark. On the next possession, he got three the old-fashioned way to give Marquette a 21-7 edge. All of Cubillan's 11 points came in the first half.

"He's got to get definite credit for what he did today," said Crean. "He didn't score in the second half, but he still impacted the game with his ball movement and his defense."

Chaminade stayed close thanks to strong play from their All-American candidate, Marco Kolaric. Kolaric had 11 points, seven rebounds and two blocks in the first half to pace the Silverswords. The Golden Eagles led the Silverswords 39-30 at half.

Chaminade closed the gap even further to start the second half, going on a 6-2 run out of the break to cut the Marquette lead to 39-36 at 17:02. But a flurry of points by McNeal and Hayward widened the lead to 48-38 with 14:35 to play.

"I'm glad we're in a tournament with Duke," said Crean. "Because Duke is the ultimate at taking a lead of six or eight and pushing it to 14 or 16 in minutes. We're not there yet."

Rodrick Johnson, who sat much of the first half with foul trouble, helped get the Silverswords back within three by hitting back to back shots at the 5:26 mark. Johnson scored 10 of his 13 points in the second half.

"I was kind of devastated I had to sit out most of the game," said Johnson. "I was a little too excited to start the game and wound up with two fouls."

Defense won the game for the Golden Eagles. Six different players combined for 14 Golden Eagle steals, and the team scored 24 points off 19 total Chaminade turnovers. Marquette also outscored Chaminade 30-2 off the fast break.

"A lot of us feed off our defensive energy," said Hayward.

Kolaric finished with a double-double for the Silverswords, recording 19 points and a game-high 14 rebounds. The Golden Eagles were out-rebounded 43-32.

"Our mistakes were self inflicted," said Crean. "Lack of blocking out; taking threes off the first side instead of getting great ball reversal. I hate to use the word ‘lucky,' but I'm going to. We're going to have to play a lot better to do well in this tournament."

Marquette will take Oklahoma State [who beat LSU] in the first semifinal game Tuesday at 2:00 p.m. Hawaii Time.

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