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Matthews, Marquette hold off Rutgers

Jan 8, 2009 - 4:59 AM PISCATAWAY, New Jersey (Ticker) -- Wesley Matthews was 10-for-10 from the field and Marquette needed his perfect performance to hold off a furious Rutgers charge, 81-76, on Wednesday.

The 15th-ranked Golden Eagles led 57-36 in the second half before the Scarlet Knights unleashed a furious 27-11 surge to make a game of the Big East battle.

"Like all Big East road games I think that they are pretty hard to get," Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. "I thought that we started well in the second half, then right before the second media timeout of the second half, I thought that we began to get a little out of character."

"Rutgers made a great run and we had a hard time controlling it. We had a hard time slowing them down, and it was just a fight the rest of the way. Rutgers was the aggressor and we struggled to calm them down. We were fortunate at the end to make free throws when they counted most and grateful to be able to pull it out."

After cutting its deficit to five points, Rutgers was stripped of the ball and Matthews raced ahead of the pack for the dunk that made it 70-63. The hoop completed a perfect shooting effort for Matthews, who scored 23 points to lead Marquette (14-2, 3-0 Big East).

"He obviously had a great night," Rutgers coach Fred Hill said. "The only thing that we can do is make guys take tough shots. That's our job and I thought that we made him take some real tough shots and he obviously made them.

"One of the things that he does real well is he gets to the free-throw line. Tonight, I thought we guarded him and made him take tough shots and didn't allow him to get inside and get on the line like he normally does."

Rutgers closed within 72-69 on a dunk by J.R. Inman in the final 50 seconds. Jerel McNeal then hit 1-of-2 from the line for Marquette before freshman Mike Rosario cut the gap to 73-71 with a runner in the lane.

Lazar Hayward then hit a pair of free throws and Rosario missed a long 3-pointer, forcing Rutgers to foul, again. McNeal canned both to make it 77-71 with 25 seconds left.

Rosario hit a hoop but then fouled out with 8.4 seconds left, sending McNeal to the line, where he hit two more free throws. Marquette converted its last nine free throws to ice the victory.

"It's just very difficult to dig yourself a hole like that," Hill said. "It takes so much energy and there's no margin for error. I'm very, very proud of the kids and the way they battled and the way they kept coming and the things that they did. But it's very difficult to put yourself in a 21-point hole and think you're going to come back and ultimately overtake a really good team to win the game.

"You get a break here or there, shot goes down and you get a big stop or they miss a free throw and you got yourself a chance. That's all that you can ask for."

Dominic James added 15 points and six assists for the Golden Eagles, who have won six straight.

The Scarlet Knights (9-7, 0-3) were paced by Rosario with 22 points.

"He's really, really good, and a very talented player," Williams said of Rutgers' young guard. "He shot 24 shots and I think that he was zero for six at halftime from three-point land. I guess we guarded him well in the first half and didn't guard him well enough in the second half."