March 8, 2007

MU weathers Storm

Marquette (24-8) eliminated St. John's (16-15) from Big East tournament contention with an uninspiring 76-67 win at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night. Without the services of Jerel McNeal for the evening - and the rest of the tournament - it was up to the other Golden Eagles to step up. MU will next face Pitt in the Big East quarterfinals on Thursday at 9:00 EST on ESPN.

Dan Fitzgerald and Wesley Matthews Jr. led the way for the Golden Eagles, but it wasn't a pretty game.

Dominic James went 2-14 from the field, including 0-9 from behind the arc, but it was the inspired play of Fitzgerald that was the difference in the game. Fitzgerald posted a career-high 20 points against the Red Storm, popping from outside and driving to the basket. Lazar Hayward joined in with 14 points and a team-leading 7 rebounds, and Matthews added 15, including some clutch free throws down the stretch.

All in all it was a group effort, with Mike Kinsella coming off the bench again to score 6 points on 2-2 shooting from 3-point land.

Anthony Mason Jr. led the Red Storm with 19 points, and Aaron Spears pitched in 18. Lamont Hamilton did not play for St. John's; on Sunday he tore a knee ligament that ended his season.

First half:

With a halftime score of 35-28 in favor of Marquette, the only positive for the Golden Eagles in the first half was the score. Their lead was not indicative of how they played - St. John's just played worse.

Fitzgerald had 8 points in the half to go along with Matthews' 10, but it was the youth and lack of defensive awareness and effort from the Red Storm that allowed a tough shooting half for Marquette to go unpunished.

With a couple of quick buckets, Mason was the bright spot of the first 10 minutes for St. John's, but he also got a pair of quick fouls to land him on the bench for the last 6:40 of the half. At the 4:17 mark, Fitzgerald hit a 3-pointer, putting Marquette up 28-20, and it looked like St. John's was ready to lie down. But poor shooting from the MU side kept them in the game, and at the half, when they were down only 7, the Red Storm had to feel like they were in the contest.

Marquette shot 43% from the floor in the half and only 5-13 from the 3-point line, with James going 0-6. St. John's shot 39% from the floor in the first half and 4-12 from behind the arc. MU outrebounded the Red Storm 19-12 in the half. Spears led St. John's with 8 first-half points.

Second half:

The second half was much like the first, with a herky-jerky tempo that never allowed MU to put away the pesky Red Storm.

At the 17:50 mark, a Hayward basket put Marquette up 45-35, and all seemed to be finally going MU's way. But that was the last basket that the Golden Eagles would score for about four minutes. St. Johns went on a 10-0 run over that span to tie the game at 45-45 - but they could never get over the hump. Hayward scored back-to-back baskets, putting Marquette up 4, and they never looked back, although they never really looked like they were in total control either.

Marquette pushed their lead to 63-51 on Kinsella's second 3-pointer of the night at the 7:33 mark. But SJU responded, and by the 4:30 mark the scoreboard read 64-58 in favor of MU. It was a seesaw battle from that point on, with the Red Storm pulling within four with about a minute left to go.

Marquette was able to make their foul shots the rest of the way, and the St. John's rally ultimately fell short, with the game ending at 76-67.

Observations:

Marquette moves the ball a little better without McNeal, but they miss his defensive intensity.
James continues to struggle with his outside shot. But he has found different ways to help the team win.
I still believe that it may be better to win the first game against St. John's and then lose to Pitt. A run to the championship game will take more out of the team than it's worth before the NCAA tournament.
Fitzgerald found his stroke at MSG; now he must keep it going for the rest of the year.
With the win over Pittsburgh, I see a #6 seed for Marquette in the NCAA tournament, probably in the West region.
Matthews put up another solid all-around game for MU.
Tom Crean used his rotation to perfection in the absence of McNeal - look for another bench player to make a huge contribution against Pitt.
Could it get any better than playing at MSG every year? What a recruiting advantage that is for every Big East program.
Anthony Mason Sr. is a blimp - whew. He looks like he has been boxing out Charles Barkley at the buffet table.














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