MILWAUKEE-An emphatic three-pointer by Dominic James with 24.8 seconds left capped a game-ending 24-5 run for Marquette in their 75-53 win over West Virginia Saturday afternoon at the Bradley Center.
Jerel McNeal scored 26 points and grabbed 7 rebounds to lead the Golden Eagles (15-2, 4-0 Big East), while James added 17 points and 7 assists and Wes Matthews chipped in with 13.
"We knew we had to come out and match their intensity," said McNeal. "We [certainly] did not play perfect, but throughout the course of the game I thought we matched their intensity and we were [eventually] able to come out on top."
In the first half that less than perfect play showed, as West Virginia (11-4, 1-2 Big East) seemed to control the game early. The Golden Eagles managed to score just two points in the opening 6:53 of the first half and their struggles continued over the next five minutes as the Mountaineers pushed the lead to 8, 21-13, at the 8:02 mark.
However, Marquette showed resiliency by battling back and would have taken a lead into the locker room but for a Da'Sean Butler three-pointer at the buzzer to give the visitors a 31-29 advantage.
This basket, though, was the final meaningful contribution that Butler would make, as he found himself in foul trouble for the remainder of the game.
"It was the tale of two halves," said MU head coach Buzz Williams. "I thought we were pitiful in the first half and [had] a little bit of a drop off for the first time in the 17 games we have played. [However], I was grateful for how we responded in the second half and how Lazar helped us down the stretch. I thought those four core guys were really, really good in the second half."
The second half began to mirror the opening minutes of the first half, as once again WVU frustrated the Golden Eagles and added to their lead, pushing it to six points at the 18:11 mark. Then two critical things happened.
First, Matthews arrived by scoring nine consecutive points en route to an 11-0 MU run over the next 3:11 and giving the Golden Eagles a five-point advantage.
In addition, Butler picked up his third and fourth fouls in just under a three-minute span. This swung the momentum in MU's favor. But it still remained a tug-of-war match with the Golden Eagles gaining a slight advantage. MU led 55-48 at the 7:04 mark in the second half.
"[The game] was starting to get away from us," said West Virginia Head Coach Bob Huggins. "I didn't see any sense in letting Da'Sean sit and let it get away to a point where we couldn't get back in the game (so I put him back in)."
At that point, Butler re-entered the game for West Virginia and proceeded to pick up his fifth and disqualifying foul on a controversial call. This proved to be more than the Mountaineers could handle, as MU then finished by scoring 20 of the game's final 25 points.
"[The run] is a testament to the unbelievable leadership and experience that this team has," said McNeal. "When it got to crunch time we were able to make big plays. And I hope this continues in conference the rest of the way."
Marquette was able to help their own cause by playing excellent defense in the second half. They held the Mountaineers to just 25 percent shooting after intermission and an even 35 percent for the game.
The win marks the first time Marquette has started 4-0 in conference play since the 1993-94 season.
The Golden Eagles will return to action next Saturday when they head to Providence to face the Friars. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m. CST and it will be available nationwide on ESPN2.
GAME NOTES: Lazar Hayward tallied 7 points and 9 rebounds in 29 minutes despite needing an I.V. moments before game time…Marquette sank 24-of-27 from the free-throw line, including 12 in a row from the 12:55 mark to the 6:16 mark of the second half…The 75 points allowed today is the second-highest total given up by the Mountaineers, who were allowing just 56.6 points-per-game coming into the game…Jerel McNeal's 26 points tied a season high…Dominic James' 7 assists also tied a season high... Huggins was issued a technical foul shortly after Bulter's exit from the game.