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Acker steps up to shoot Marquette past Seton Hall

Mar 13, 2008 - 5:39 AM NEW YORK (Ticker) -- Maurice Acker showed Seton Hall how to shoot when the game is on the line.

Acker scored all five of his points in the final six minutes as No. 24 Marquette shook off a pesky Seton Hall squad with a 67-54 victory in the first round of the Big East Conference tournament on Wednesday.

Jerel McNeal scored 21 points and Lazar Hayward added 15 and 10 rebounds for the Golden Eagles (23-8), who advanced to face No. 14 Notre Dame in the quarterfinals Thursday.

Marquette split the season series with Notre Dame, dropping an 86-83 contest at the Joyce Center on February 9. The Golden Eagles have not made it out of the quarterfinals in their two previous appearances in the Big East tourney.

"We have a understanding of each other," Marquette coach Tom Crean said. "The game we played down there (in Notre Dame) it was a turning point for us and we came us short, but we learned a lot about were we wanted to go for the rest of the season. They have guys who can score, but they have improved defensively."

Although it had beaten Seton Hall in each of the previous four meetings, Marquette saw a six-point lead in the second half cut to 54-53 following a layup by the Pirates' Eugene Harvey with 6:02 remaining.

Acker, who had only attempted one shot in the contest, answered with a 3-pointer, and Seton Hall was unable to threaten again as it missed its final six shots over the final 4 1/2 minutes.

"They had Maurice Acker come off the bench and stick a huge (3-pointer)," Seton Hall coach Bobby Gonzalez said. "We just couldn't get over the hump."

After Jamar Nutter split a pair of free throws for the Pirates, Hayward had a layup and made 1-of-2 foul shots to make it 60-54 with 3:54 remaining.

Acker then stepped up again, hitting a desperation runner from just inside the key to beat the shot clock and causing Gonzalez to shake his head in disbelief.

"We're proud of the way that we played in the second half," Crean said. "We kept Seton Hall without a basket for the last five minutes. We went to a smaller lineup because of foul problems and that worked for us down the stretch."

The Golden Eagles' leading scorer, McNeal went 7-of-15 from the field, tied a season high with nine rebounds and handed out four assists.

It was a great performance for the junior guard, who missed the league tournament last year due to a wrist injury.

"It was a good feeling to be out there because last year I was injured," McNeal said. "Tonight was on those nights that my teammates found me, found the open spaces for me and (kept) giving me good looks."

Dominic James added 11 points for Marquette, which overcame shooting 18 percent (3-of-17) on 3-pointers by holding a 56-36 advantage in rebounds.

The 56 rebounds by the Golden Eagles ended up being three short of the Big East tournament record set by Connecticut against Seton Hall in 1996.

One reason for Marquette's impressive showing on the boards was that Seton Hall had starting forward John Garcia and reserve big men Augustine Okosun and Mike Davis all foul out down the stretch.

"Our game plan was terrific, but when three of our big guys fouled out, they (end up) beating us on the boards," Gonzalez said. "We got beat on the backboard by 19."

Harvey and Nutter finished with 13 points apiece for the Pirates (17-15), who lost in the first round of the Big East tournament for the fourth straight year.