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McNeal, Matthews lead Marquette past Georgetown

Feb 22, 2009 - 1:26 AM WASHINGTON (Ticker) -- Jerel McNeal helped Marquette continue its best season since joining the Big East Conference.

McNeal scored 22 points, grabbed six rebounds and dished out seven assists Saturday afternoon as 11th-ranked Marquette began its toughest stretch of the season with a 78-72 victory over fading Georgetown.

Wesley Matthews scored 23 points to pace the Golden Eagles (23-4, 12-2 Big East), who have reached 12 conference wins for the first time since joining the Big East in 2005-06.

Marquette, which remained one-half game behind first-place Connecticut in the conference standings, still has an outside chance to win its first Big East regular-season title.

The Golden Eagles face a daunting schedule, however, as their remaining four games are against Big East powerhouses UConn, Louisville, Pittsburgh and Syracuse.

"They're all absolutely brutal to me, whether they're at home or on the road," Marquette coach Buzz Williams said.

Despite struggling at times defensively against the Hoyas (14-11, 5-9), the Golden Eagles snapped their two-game road losing streak thanks to the offensive prowess of McNeal, Matthews and Lazar Hayward, who finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds.

The trio of McNeal, Matthews and Hayward provided nearly 80 percent of Marquette's offense, combining to shoot 50 percent (22-of-44) from the floor.

Chris Wright had 17 points to lead four players in double figures for Georgetown, which has lost eight of its last 10 games and will be hard-pressed to reach the NCAA Tournament.

"We'll get through this," Georgetown head coach John Thompson III said. "We're going to do what we do. We're going to try to get better from the top on down."

Georgetown took a 59-58 lead on Austin Freeman's jumper with 8:32 remaining. But Marquette responded with a 9-2 run capped by Jimmy Butler's layup to build a 67-61 lead with 5:21 left.

The Hoyas clawed within 71-67 with three minutes left, but Marquette made 5-of-6 free throws over a 25-second stretch to put together a commanding 78-69 lead with 20 seconds remaining.

"Over the last 10 minutes of the game, we were hitting on all cylinders," Williams said.