It certainly wasn't one of Marquette's prettiest games, but thanks in part to a lively crowd and three players who scored in double figures – Jerel McNeal (14 points), Dominic James (13), and Dan Fitzgerald (12) – the Golden Eagles were able to overcome their woes and pick up their second Big East win of the season.
"We do not get this win tonight without the energy of the crowd," said Head Coach Tom Crean. "There is no doubt about it, the crowd was so good. I think our guys were really driven by that spirit that the crowd was giving and they made plays."
After a lackluster first half of basketball though, Marquette (12-2, 2-1) saw itself down by seven points (31-24) to the visiting Pirates (10-5, 0-2) and looking for answers.
The Golden Eagles shot just 30% from the field (9-30), were out-rebounded (19-16), turned the ball over nine times, and scored only six points in transition in route to intermission. As Marquette trailed for almost the entire first half, they also experienced trouble trying to shut down the Big East's leading scorer, Brian Laing (7 first half points), and Seton Hall's standout sophomore point guard Eugene Harvey (9 first half points). The Golden Eagles however, did get nine first half points from McNeal.
"We had to find a way to hang in there," said Crean. "We were a day late and a dollar short on too many things when it came down to 50-50 balls, block outs and rotations. Seton Hall did a very good job of leaking out, which we had prepared for, but we didn't always get back, so they got some easy baskets that way."
As the second half began, everyone in the Bradley Center knew that Marquette was going to make a run; they just didn't know when. The Golden Eagles got their first burst of energy of the night at 18:34 mark of the second half as James scored his fifth straight point of the half by converting a Maurice Acker steal into a dunk. This basket got Marquette within four points of the Pirates, which was where they seemed to remain around for the next twelve minutes.
Acker played a very complete game and finished with five points, three rebounds, six assists, a block (yes, I said a block), and a steal in 28 minutes.
At the 6:00 mark of the second half however, the game's momentum finally changed in Marquette's favor. After battling back and forth with Seton Hall for a good portion of the second half and seeing the Pirates advantage go from seven points to one point and then back to seven, the Golden Eagles were finally able to overcome the hurdle and take the lead.
Seton Hall led by two points and a Laing miss and a McNeal rebound opened the door for James to do one of the things that he and Marquette do best: get out in transition. James corralled McNeal's pass, scored a lay up, and was intentionally fouled by Jamar Nutter. The lay up tied the game at 47 points, but also left James on the floor in obvious pain with his right wrist. As James left the game to have his wrist examined, Acker calmly stepped in and sunk both free throws to give Marquette its first lead since the 18:18 mark of the first half.
This was a lead that the fans would not let the Golden Eagles relinquish. Marquette held the advantage for the remainder of the game and stretched it to as many as five points. This five point lead was the game's final score and came with nine seconds left as Fitzgerald knocked down his fourth three pointer of the game to seal the deal for MU.
"Somebody had to make something at that point," said Fitzgerald. "It was an ugly game at both ends. The reason we won was because it was all defense all game. We shot 33 percent, so defense was a huge key. Down the stretch we made some shots, that was (also) a key."
One of the hardest workers on the floor all night appeared to McNeal. In his team-high 34 minutes, Jerel not only scored 14 points but also grabbed a team-high seven rebounds, had five assists, three blocks, and two steals.
James did return to the game following his injury which Crean called a right wrist sprain. James will have his wrist examined further tonight and tomorrow.
Seton Hall was led by the sophomore Harvey (game-high 18 points) and the senior Laing (13 points, 8 rebounds).
"It's one of those games that you're proud that you got (a win)," said Crean. "You're not necessarily excited about the way you played, but you're excited that you got a win. We can improve from this."
Marquette returns to action this Saturday as they face one of their biggest rivals, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, at 1 p.m. CST at the Bradley Center.
**Nick Chmurski is a freshman majoring in Finance