Hillcrest Heroes

Jerel McNeal scored a career-high 28 points and Maurice 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.

NEW YORK – Jerel McNeal and Maurice Acker routinely teamed up for big-time performances at Hillcrest High School in suburban Chicago, but they could never have imagined they would do it on a stage like this.

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 Marquette back in front after they had trailed for the majority of the game.

"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 Ball State who became eligible to play for Marquette this season, finished with 11 points, one short of his career high, and three assists. The diminutive point-guard hit back-to-back three pointers to extend a precarious four-point Marquette lead to double-digits with 3:38 to play.

"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.

Marquette had a brief four-point lead in the opening period, at 20-16, thanks to four quick points from Dan Fitzgerald. However, Notre Dame quickly retook the lead and went on a 7-2 run in the last minute of the half, with three-pointers from Kyle McAlarney and Rob Kurz, to extend their lead to 38-32 at the break. Kurz led all scorers in the first half with 11 points and went 6-of-6 from the free-throw line in that span.

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 Marquette run. But after a timeout, Luke Harangody scored Notre Dame's next eight points to re-tie the game at 50 with 14:27 to play.

A McNeal three-pointer with 11:50 in the game gave Marquette a lead they would never relinquish, but the game remained close until Acker's late marksmanship provided the final dagger.

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.

Marquette outscored Notre Dame 57-41 in the second half while shooting a sizzling 63.0 percent from the field in the process.

"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."

Five Marquette players scored in double-figures, as Lazar Hayward added 15 points, Dominic James tallied 10 points with six assists, and Wesley Matthews also added 10 points.

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, Marquette held Big East Player of the Year and 23.3 points-per-game-scorer Harangody to 13 points on 5-of-12 shooting. Harangody fouled out of the contest with 1:14 to play.

With the victory, Marquette advanced to the Big East Semifinals for the first time ever and will play Pittsburgh, who beat Louisville 76-69 in overtime earlier in the day, for a chance to advance to the championship.

"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.


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