for this game

Marquette breezes past St. John's

Feb 21, 2008 - 4:45 AM NEW YORK (Ticker) -- By the time St. John's awoke from its offensive slumber, Marquette had matters well in control.

Jerel McNeal scored 20 points and Dominic James added 19 to power the 24th-ranked Golden Eagles to a 73-64 victory over the Red Storm in the Big East Conference on Wednesday night.

The reigning Big East Defensive Player of the Year, McNeal flashed his movement without the ball to get around the St. John's defense. He and James split 22 points in the first half to set the tone.

"Ball movement, four more passes and guys hitting their shots was the difference of tonight's game," McNeal said. "We played good for the first half and start of the second half and it's just one of those games that we lost focus down the stretch.

"Like Coach said after the game, we have to play a full 40 minutes, not 30 minutes, and see what happens."

The score was not indicative of the dominance of Marquette (19-6, 9-5 Big East), which led by as many as 23 points and never saw the lead get under double digits until there were 21 seconds to play.

"I think our guys did a good job setting a tone early in the game and then we let our guards down and we can't do that," Golden Eagles coach Tom Crean said. "We got our focus back at the right time. In this league you have to play 40 minutes."

This was the fourth consecutive game at Madison Square Garden that the Red Storm have lost by 10 or more points in conference play this season. They lost by 24, 32 and 18 points in the previous three defeats.

Things don't get any easier for St. John's, which travels to face Atlantic Coast Conference power Duke on Saturday.

It was the third straight victory for the Golden Eagles, who used a harassing defense to force 23 turnovers that led to several easy baskets in transition.

That proved to be the undoing for offensively-challenged St. John's (10-15, 4-10), which dropped its third straight game following back-to-back losses in which it scored 42 and 43 points.

Marquette had built a 53-31 lead with just over 12 minutes to play, and the only offense for the Red Storm came from Anthony Mason Jr., who scored 18 of the 31 points.

Playing his second game after missing three games with tender ankle injury, Mason scored 12 points in the first half. No one else on the team had more than three points as the Red Storm trailed, 36-24, at the break.

"I just thought we weren't executing are plays," Mason said. "Our execution was down and we turned the ball over a lot tonight."

St. John's slowly chipped away but did not get the deficit into single digits until Eugene Lawrence's 3-pointer made it 69-61 with 21 ticks remaining.

Leading, 22-16, Marquette put together an 8-0 burst triggered by back-to-back 3-pointers from Dan Fitzgerald and McNeal. James capped the run with a dunk off a steal to widen the cushion to 30-16 with 4:29 left.

"Most of our best offense is are best defense," James said. "Making early shots and grabbing long rebounds at the start of the game gave us a good lead and then we got sloppy and gave St. John's a chance."

McNeal scored again off a steal - the seventh of the game for the Golden Eagles - to make it 36-21 before Malik Boothe converted a three-point play to cut the deficit to 36-24 at halftime.

Mason scored 20 points to lead St. John's, which was a woeful 22-of-39 from the free-throw line.

"We need to make our free throws," Red Storm coach Norm Roberts said. "We practice every day and tonight we didn't make them. We have to stop having these slow starts and it all matters of making plays and knocking down shots."