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McNeal, Matthews help Marquette hold off Villanova

Jan 2, 2009 - 12:41 AM MILWAUKEE (Ticker) -- Jerel McNeal led four scorers in double figures with 24 points as Marquette posted a 79-72 victory over No. 13 Villanova on Thursday in the Big East Conference opener for both teams.

McNeal shot 7-of-14 from the floor and dished out seven assists.

Wesley Matthews scored 19 points for the Golden Eagles (12-2, 1-0 Big East), who hit 10 3-pointers en route to their fourth straight win.

Dominic James had 17 points and six rebounds and Lazar Hayward scored 15 for Marquette, which shot 46 percent (23-of-50).

The Marquette seniors of McNeal, Matthews, James and Dwight Burke have never started 2-0 in conference play, something not lost on them.

"Its huge," Matthews said. "We have never started out 2-0. (Coach Buzz Williams) had told us that in the locker room. This is a tough conference and wins are tough to come by. You have to protect them at home and we have Cincinnati on Sunday. You have to protect home court. You have to get every win that you can, every advantage because in the conference nothing is guaranteed."

"It is one (conference game), there are 17 more that we are assured of," Williams said. "We will enjoy this one until midnight and then we will have to get to work. Our four seniors have never won the first two conference games of their careers."

Corey Fisher scored 21 points for Villanova (12-2, 0-1), which shot just 41 percent (24-of-58) and went just 6-of-20 from the arc.

In a back-and-forth contest, McNeal and Matthews proved to be the difference. Matthews scored 16 of his points in the second half.

Matthews had six during an 11-4 spurt which was capped by a 3-pointer from McNeal that made it 66-58 with 3:45 left.

"Just letting the game come," Matthews said of his hot streak.

"Jerel and Dominic got it going early, they had the matchups and we were just playing in the flow of the game. We were obviously each playing our part and I tried to play defense and rebound and get the team involved. Whenever that little outburst took place, I was just playing my spot, playing my position and the shots were falling."

After the decisive run, the Wildcats could get no closer than six the rest of the way and the Golden Eagles hit 13 of their last 14 free throws.

"I think we did a great job of keeping our poise," McNeal said.

"We weren't getting the shots that we wanted to get offensively. Coach called timeout and we got a big bucket by Wes (Matthews) and after that we just settled back in and started getting stops and doing what we wanted to do offensively."

McNeal scored 13 points and capped the opening half with a buzzer beater to give Marquette a 36-32 lead at the break.

Dante Cunningham had 16 points and eight rebounds and Scottie Reynolds scored 15 for Villanova.