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McNeal steps up as Marquette holds off IUPUI in season opener

Nov 11, 2007 - 5:45 AM MILWAUKEE (Ticker) -- After a disappointing end to the 2006-07 campaign, Jerel McNeal made sure Marquette got off on a positive note.

McNeal had 20 points and three steals to help the 12th-ranked Golden Eagles hold on for a 76-68 victory over IUPUI in Saturday's season opener for both schools.

After winning 21 of its first 25 games last season, Marquette stumbled down the stretch, losing six of its last nine games, including first-round exits in both the Big East Conference and NCAA Tournaments.

But the Golden Eagles (1-0) had to survive a strong second-half effort from the Jaguars, who trailed 39-31 at halftime before making things interesting.

Austin Montgomery's layup with 13:07 remaining helped cap an aggressive 17-2 burst to begin the second half as IUPUI (0-1) grabbed a 48-43 edge.

However, McNeal's jumper sparked a commanding 12-1 run to give Marquette the lead for good at 55-49 with 10 1/2 minutes left.

"I think we just tried to focus on getting the best out of our offense and trying to move the ball, trying to get the ball in the middle of the court, basically just get stops," McNeal said. "I think that was the main problem, we weren't getting enough stops or rebounds.

"We played a pretty good team. It was one of those situations where it was a really good first game for us, it was a measuring stick for us, letting us know where we are and where we can get better in our weaknesses."

Montgomery pulled the Jaguars within one-point, but the Golden Eagles responded behind a 7-0 surge on McNeal's pull-up jumper with 5:18 to go to make it 62-54.

"I thought we did a good job of shooting the ball, we hit the right kind of shots for the most part," Golden Eagles coach Tom Crean said. "I think our decision making at times needed to improve, but that's part of it being the first game."

Dominic James had 12 points and four steals and Lazar Hayward scored 11 for Marquette, which shot 55 percent (27-of-49) from the field.

George Hill scored 19 points and Gary Patterson added 15 for the Jaguars, who shot 50 percent (24-of-48) and drained 8-of-17 3-pointers.

"I really thought my kids played hard. I thought it was great, when George Hill got his fourth, we could have folded and our kids hung in there a little bit," IUPUI coach Ron Hunter said. "Our kids really just did a good job of hanging in there. I would have loved to see how the game would've played out had Hill not gotten his fourth."