Slow start dooms MU

NEW YORK – After a thrilling comeback the previous night to beat Notre Dame, Marquette's shot at a repeat-performance fell short on Friday, as they dropped a 68-61 contest to Pittsburgh in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament.

NEW YORK – After a thrilling comeback the previous night to beat Notre Dame, Marquette's shot at a repeat-performance fell short on Friday, as they dropped a 68-61 contest to Pittsburgh in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament.

"We had eight field goals, I believe, in the first half," said Marquette Head Coach Tom Crean. "It was not a great offensive performance. But we felt like we were going to come back."

The Golden Eagles shot only 31 percent from the field in a game they never led, yet they cut a 16 point deficit down to a one-possession game in the final minutes, and the Panthers went 6-of-8 from the line in the final minute to hold on for the victory.

After a disappointing stretch early on, Dominic James rebounded to key Marquette's late run. An ally-op from Jerel McNeal to James with 3:52 to play to cut the deficit to eight points. The Golden Eagles ran the same play several possessions later, and James converted his own miss to bring the deficit down to three. But Marquette would get no closer.

"They got off to a great start," said Crean. "But we came back in the second half and had opportunities down the stretch. It became one of those possession-by-possession games down the stretch."

The comeback seemed improbable, given how poorly Marquette shot in the first half.

The Panthers opened the game with a 16-4 lead, and after the Golden Eagles trimmed it to 20-15 on a three-pointer by Maurice Acker at the 12:12 mark, Pittsburgh closed the half on a 15-7 run for a 35-22 lead at the break.

Marquette scored only two points in the final 9:28 of the first half, both on free-throws.

The Golden Eagles shot a dismal 26.7 percent from the field (8-of-30) in the first half. Subtract McNeal's first half contributions (11 points on 5-of-8 shooting) and the rest of the team shot only 13.6 percent (3-of-22).

James missed his fist 12 shots from the floor, finally getting on the board with 7:39 to go in the game. He finished with eight points on 3-of-16 shooting.

‘He's a great player," said Pittsburgh guard Levance Fields. "We just kept a hand in his face – don't give him the drive and make him shoot contested shots. We did that."

In one of the few bright spots for Marquette, Wes Matthews became the team's third player to reach 1,000 career points this season, joining Dominic James and Jerel McNeal. Matthews reached the milestone with an acrobatic putback and the foul shot that followed with 13:55 in the second half. All three players scored their 1,000th point on a free-throw. Matthews finished the night with 10 points, all in the second half, and pulled in nine rebounds.

McNeal led Marquette's scoring effort for the third straight game, notching 17 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Lazar Hayward also collected 10 points and seven rebounds for the Golden Eagles.

For Pittsburgh, Big East Most Improved Player Sam Young led the way with 22 points on 9-of-14 shooting. Ronald Ramon and Fields scored 14 and 12 points, respectively.

With the win, Pittsburgh advances to the Big East Championship for the third straight season and for the seventh time in the last eight seasons. They will play Georgetown, who beat West Virginia 72-55 in the first semifinal, in what will be a rematch of last year's championship. The Panthers are 5-0 at Madison Square Garden this season and 22-8 at the arena since the 2000-01 season.

"We'll do anything we can to play in the Garden," said Pittsburgh Head Coach Jamie Dixon. "We'll change schedules around. We'll change events around. We want to get our kids back here."

Marquette will await the decision of the NCAA Selection Committee to see when they play next. The official announcement of the tournament bracket will air Sunday at 5:00 p.m. CDT on CBS.


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