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McNeal's steal lifts Marquette past South Florida

Jan 29, 2007 - 12:41 AM TAMPA, Florida (Ticker) -- It proved to be a major task for Jerel McNeal and Marquette to continue their winning streak.

McNeal scored the game-winning layup as time expired and the Golden Eagles survived a renewal of their rivalry with South Florida, capturing their sixth straight win with a 70-68 Big East Conference victory.

After teammate Dominic James tied the score at 68-68 on a tough layup with 15 seconds left, McNeal grabbed a steal in the closing seconds and raced down the court to record the deciding basket.

Using a timeout with 9.9 seconds to diagram a play for a winning shot, the Bulls inbounded the ball to Chris Howard, who had his pass intended for leading scorer Melvin Buckley intercepted near mid-court by McNeal, who finished with two steals.

McNeal ended up with 13 points on 5-of-13 shooting and James had 16 points and six assists for the Golden Eagles (19-4, 6-2 Big East), who were facing the Bulls for the first time since both teams moved over from Conference USA prior to last season.

Starting very slowly, Marquette trailed, 17-15, as it shot just 4-of-23 from the field in the opening 12 minutes. The Golden Eagles did turn it around, finishing the first half on a 20-12 run to grab a 35-29 edge at the break. David Cubillan had nine points on three 3-pointers in the opening half.

Although it had lost five of its previous seven games, South Florida (11-11, 2-6) came back to grab a 58-56 lead on a 3-pointer by Buckley with 6:30 remaining.

The two teams went back and forth until the Bulls took an edge at 64-60 on back-to-back baskets by Buckley and Kentrell Gransberry with 3:03 remaining.

Dan Fitzgerald answered back with a 3-pointer for Marquette, but Gransberry converted a layup off an offensive rebound to make it 66-63 with 2:09 left.

James then found Ousmane Barro for a layup and, after a dunk by South Florida's McHugh Mattis, the 5-11 sophomore rebounded teammate Wesley Matthews' 3-pointer and was fouled. He split two free throws to close Marquette within 68-66 with 58 seconds to go.

Mattis, who finished with 20 points from the Bulls, blew a good chance to extend the lead back up to four points by missing a layup.

Mattis also had nine rebounds and Buckley scored 16 points for South Florida, which dropped to 2-13 all-time against Marquette.

Matthews scored 12 points despite shooting 2-of-11 from the field and Barro added 11 for the Golden Eagles, who won despite shooting 38 percent (23-of-60). They did connect on 8-of-19 3-pointers and hold a 37-36 edge on the boards.