McNeal scored a career-high 28 points and Acker hit two huge three-pointers down the stretch to help No. 24 Marquette (24-8, 13-7 Big East) to an 89-79 victory over No. 14 Notre Dame (24-7, 14-5 Big East) in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament.
"Ever since Jerel has been a freshman, we have always wanted to take that next step in this tournament," said Marquette Head Coach Tom Crean. "We knew we had to beat an outstanding team with Notre Dame, and our guys really turned it up a lot of different ways in the second half."
McNeal finished the night 9-of-16 from the floor and 4-of-7 from the perimeter. He scored 20 points in the second half and almost single-handedly clawed
"No one in the league is playing better than him here," said Notre Dame Head Coach Mike Brey. "He's the key to this team."
Acker, a transfer from
"Tonight was his time," said McNeal. "He made some big shots at crunch-time. I'm happy for him more than anything."
"Since high school we've been playing," said Acker. "[When] we're on the court we have that bond. I know where he is at every time, and he knows where I am."
The Golden Eagles trailed for much of the contest, including all but 1:32 of the first half.
Another 6-2 run for the Irish to open the second half was answered by a 11-2 run by the Golden Eagles, as they went ahead 47-46. McNeal scored seven straight to key the
A McNeal three-pointer with 11:50 in the game gave
The Irish made things interesting by hitting three three-pointers in a 14-second stretch over the final minute, but the Golden Eagles hit their free-throws late to hang on for the victory.
"At that point it kind of feels like they're throwing in everything," said McAlarney. "Our scouting report is to give up that jump shot and protect the paint. [We] protect our paint and they start throwing those in."
Every Notre Dame starter scored in double-figures, led by McAlarney's 20 points. Kurz scored 15 points and Zach Hillesland added a season-high 14 points.
For the second straight night, the Golden Eagles held their opponents leading scorer below their season average. After clamping down on Seton Hall's Brian Laing on Wednesday,
With the victory,
"We've always felt if you can play on Friday night at the Big East Tournament, you can play with anybody," said Crean. "We're very proud to be one of the four teams that's going to get an opportunity to do that."
The Golden Eagles and Panthers tip off Friday night at 8:30 CDT.