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Freshman Cubillan lifts Marquette past Pittsburgh

Mar 4, 2007 - 6:51 AM MILWAUKEE (Ticker) -- Freshman David Cubillan stepped up because backcourt mates Dominic James and Jerel McNeal could not.

Cubillan scored a season-high 20 points, including 11 in the final two minutes, to lift No. 20 Marquette to a 75-71 victory over 12th-ranked Pittsburgh, which failed to gain a share of the Big East Conference regular-season title with Georgetown.

The Golden Eagles (23-8, 10-6 Big East) completed a season sweep of the Panthers and clinched the No. 6 seed in the upcoming conference tournament.

With James, the reigning Big East Rookie of the Year and the team's leading scorer, forced to the sideline with apparent leg cramps and second-leading scorer Jerel McNeal out with a thumb injury, Cubillan more than filled the sizable void in Marquette's lineup.

"For him to have 20 points on the day the guy he usually backs up was hurt was phenomenal," Golden Eagles coach Tom Crean said of Cubillan.

Trailing, 57-40, Pitt (25-5, 12-4) took advantage of point guard James' absence and used a 17-4 run to whittle the lead to 61-57 with 2:14 to play.

Cubillan responded by making the biggest shot of the game, burying a 3-pointer - his fourth of the contest - from the left corner to push the lead to 64-57 with 1:40 left.

The 6-foot freshman then hit 8-of-8 free throws as Marquette made 11 in a row from the stripe before Wesley Matthews finally missed with 8.2 seconds to play.

"I knew I was going to have to step up, all of us knew," Cubillan said. "Jerel is such a big part of this team. We always prepare and I was ready to step up and play.

"It was a great crowd. It was a wonderful environment and I fed off their energy."

The Golden Eagles, who finished 27-of-31 from the free-throw line.

Matthews also scored 20 points while James added seven and a career-high 10 assists despite playing only 27 minutes.

"We were just playing to win," Matthews said. "Everyone was telling me I had to step up and I knew I had to step up. Everyone had to make big plays tonight and I just had to do the same thing. And it wasn't just me, it was my teammates getting me the ball where I could score."

Aaron Gray had 18 points and 13 rebounds for the Panthers, who potentially blew a chance at the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament.

A couple of foolish fouls by Marquette - with 45 and 31 seconds to play - allowed Gray to convert a pair of three-point plays, but Matthews lauded his team's defense on the 7-foot Wooden Award candidate.

"We had a game plan and we executed. We knew he was going to be the focal point and get his touches," Matthews said. "He had 18 and 13, but a lot of it came late. He is a great player and is going to do great things. All the bigs who guarded him played great."

Pittsburgh will drop to the No. 3 seed for the Big East Tournament if Louisville beats Seton Hall at home on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the status of McNeal, who averages 14.7 points, for Marquette's Big East Tournament opener Wednesday is unknown.