James and Jerel McNeal stole the show in the second half, combining for 23 points after the break and finishing with 18 and 20 points, respectively, for the game.
NC State caused matchup problems early for the Golden Eagles, taking advantage of their height. Using four starters 6'5" or taller, the Wolfpack recorded 28 of their 65 points in the paint.
"More so than any of the other teams I've studied, NC State collectively has the best four post players I have seen," said Marquette head coach Buzz Williams
Six-foot-nine junior forward Brandon Costner lead the Wolfpack with 24 points and 8 rebounds. Costner started off quickly and stayed hot, scoring NC State's first 11 points. He shot lights out all game, going 9-of-10 from the floor and 5-of-5 from beyond the arc.
However, the key to the game for the Golden Eagles was their ability to create turnovers and convert them into points. Marquette's speedy backcourt was too much for NC State, as the Golden Eagles recorded 8 steals, and scored 18 points off Wolfpack turnovers.
After overcoming an early seven-point deficit, Marquette took their first lead at 23-20 with 7:49 remaining in the first half. The two teams would engage in a seesaw battle for the duration of the contest. Marquette went into halftime down 35-32.
The Golden Eagles entered the second half with a better game plan on defense, cutting down on weak side scoring opportunities and giving help in the post on Costner and center Ben McCauley.
After giving up 4 quick points to the Wolfpack to start the second half, Marquette's senior leaders, James and McNeal, showed poise in mounting a comeback. McNeal shot 5-of-8 from the floor in the second half while accumulating 3 steals. James shot 4-of-5 from the floor in the second half, including 3-of-3 from beyond the arc, while dishing out 4 assists.
After going ahead 53-52 with 8:47 to play, Marquette would remain on top until Costner hit a three-pointer to knot the game at 65 with 1:58 remaining.
Then came time for James' late-game heroics, but not before he was set up by a huge defensive play from senior Dwight Burke. Burke stripped the ball from McCauley inside as the NC State player attempted to kick the ball back out to avoid a trap. The loose ball was scooped up by James, who dribbled towards the Marquette bench and called timeout with 25 seconds remaining.
After catching the inbound pass, James waited until there were about 5 seconds remaining before he beat a double team off the dribble to his left to get off the game-winning shot.
McCauley hit a Christian Laettner-type turnaround three as time expired, but the officiating crew determined from replay that he did not get the shot off in time.
The win is huge for a Marquette team fighting to get back into the AP Top 25, as the Golden Eagles will need as many non-conference wins as they can get when going up against a Big East Conference that many believe is the best in the country.
Mike Adleman is a freshman on the Marquette Radio sports staff.