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Men’s Basketball: Down and out in New York City

Fran Tolan | Friday, March 14, 2008

NEW YORK – After two of the three earlier Big East tournament quarterfinals games had resulted in upsets Thursday, the Irish could not stave off lower-seeded Marquette as the Golden Eagles won 89-79 at Madison Square Garden.

Marquette joined West Virginia and Pittsburgh in knocking off teams that had received first-round byes.

“You gotta give them a lotta credit,” Irish coach Mike Brey said of Marquette. “This is a team that certainly was picked, I think, to finish in the top ten preseason. They’re very talented.”

When Marquette began to pull away midway through the second half, Notre Dame clawed back to make it 70-66 with 4:40 remaining. But that was as close as the Irish would get.  

Golden Eagles reserve guard Maurice Acker provided the dagger that killed Notre Dame’s hope of reaching the semifinals, nailing two straight 3-pointers to give his team a 76-66 lead.

“It is frustrating,” said Irish guard Kyle McAlarney, who led the team with 20 points. “At that point, it kinda looks like they’re throwing in everything…. Hats off to them; they’re a great team.”

The Irish built a 44-36 lead early in the second half but Marquette came back with a vengeance as guard Jerel McNeal scored 10 points during a 14-6 Golden Eagles run.

The day after he dropped 21 points in a win over Seton Hall, McNeal poured in a career-high 28 points Thursday.

“McNeal was fabulous,” Brey said. “And he’s been fabulous these two nights in New York.”

After McNeal’s hot streak erased the Irish lead, Marquette manufactured a sizable edge of its own, pulling ahead 66-57 with 7:42 remaining in the contest.

With the Golden Eagles leading 59-57, Marquette guard Dominic James hit a pullup jumper. After the Irish came up empty on their next possession, James drilled a 3-pointer to give the Golden Eagles a 64-57 lead.

Acker then hit a long jumper from the wing to give Marquette the nine-point edge.

“They got on a roll hitting some jump shots in the second half,” Brey said. “When they make jump shots like that – a bunch in a row – it kinda broke our back a little bit.”

Brey said the difference in the game was Notre Dame’s inability to stop the Marquette attack.

“I thought offensively we played well enough to win the game but we never got them under control at the defensive end of the floor,” Brey said.

Notre Dame took control early in the game as four Irish players got on the scoreboard in the first five minutes for a 12-6 lead.

Marquette responded with a 9-2 run to take a 15-14 edge, culminating in a Dwight Burke transition layup.

Notre Dame regained the lead on a pull-up jumper by junior forward Zach Hillesland with 11:21 left in the first half. The Irish were able to put more distance between themselves and Marquette even though forward Luke Harangody was forced to sit for the remainder of the half after picking up his second foul with 10:35 left.

Luke Zeller hit a 3-pointer from the wing to give the Irish a 23-22 lead with 8:11 to play in the period. McAlarney then converted on a runner in the lane and senior forward Rob Kurz knocked down a baseline jumper to gave Notre Dame a 27-22 lead.

Marquette cut the Irish lead to 31-30 but ND had a 7-2 spurt to end the half with a 38-32 lead. After Marquette guard Wesley Matthews converted a breakaway dunk, Rob Kurz nailed a 3-pointer with three seconds left in the half to give the Irish a six-point cushion.

Harangody finished with 13 points and five minutes in just 25 minutes of playing time.

Brey said the pain from the loss is eased by the fact that the Irish will likely receive an NCAA Tournament bid this Sunday.

“I told [the players] we’re excited we get to play next week,” Brey said. “…There are some things that we can work on before we go into the NCAA Tournament.”