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McNeal leads Marquette past Notre Dame

Jan 12, 2008 - 11:53 PM MILWAUKEE (Ticker) -- Jerel McNeal led a balanced scoring effort by Marquette to deny Notre Dame its first 3-0 start in Big East Conference play.

McNeal had 18 points as the 16th-ranked Golden Eagles had five players score in double figures in a 92-66 victory over the Fighting Irish on Saturday.

It was Notre Dame's worst loss in the teams' 109-game series, but the Fighting Irish still leads the all-time series, 76-33.

"It was a statement win, not so much on the outside - for us," Marquette coach Tom Crean said. "It was a statement that we could play this way, follow a game plan, eliminate mental errors, play with adversity."

Marquette (13-2, 3-1 Big East) opened a 44-36 lead at halftime behind 15 points from Lazar Hayward and 14 from McNeal.

Notre Dame (12-3, 2-1), which has never won its first three Big East games since joining the conference in 1995, stayed close in the first half as Luke Harangody scored 18 of his game-high 29 points before the half.

Consecutive 3-pointers by Dominic James in the first five minutes of the second half gave the Golden Eagles a 53-41 lead, and Marquette maintained its double-digit lead for the remainder of the contest.

"I did a double take to make sure that counted for one loss," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. "They were fabulous. The last eight, nine minutes, man, I am saying, 'I want to get guys out and get them ready for Tuesday because we're not closing the gap today.' Everybody in the building knew that."

Hayward finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds. James added 16 points, Wesley Matthews 15 and David Cubillan chipped in with 11 for Marquette, which shot 47 percent (34-of-73) from the floor. It also made half of its 3-pointers (12-of-24).

"We really have the same plan going into each game, and it always starts with ball pressure," Hayward said. "We were getting stops, and whenever we get stops we're off and running. That's when we're at our best."

Harangody was the lone player from Notre Dame to reach double figures, adding 14 rebounds as well. Rob Kurz had nine points, while Kyle McAlarney and Tony Jackson each added eight.

"It's hard to play against that," Harangody said. "They were doing extremely well, hitting open shots and moving the ball around and finding the open man. You have to give it to them on that, they played great."

McAlarney was coming of a career game in a victory over Connecticut last Saturday, when he hit six 3-pointers and finished with 32 points.

As a team, the Fighting Irish shot 39 percent (23-of-59) from the floor and made just four 3-pointers in 20 attempts. They also had a season-high 24 turnovers.

"Nothing went really well for us," Brey said. "But it was a lot of Marquette playing very, very well. A lot of guys for them made big shots and big plays. It just wasn't one or two guys. Seven, eight, nine guys made plays."