No. 25 Marquette Hosts Struggling Rutgers Saturday

Golden Eagles look to extend three game win streak against Scarlet Knights

Feb. 22, 2008

Marquette has used strong defensive play to put together a three-game winning streak, and will look to extend that run Saturday when it hosts lowly Rutgers in a Big East matchup.

The 25th-ranked Golden Eagles (19-6, 9-5) have been holding opponents to 38.8 percent shooting and an average of 60.7 points over the last three games, winning by an average of 17.3 points.

"Our defense is our offense," Marquette guard Dominic James said. "Getting stops gets our running game going. Our defense is our best offense."

The Eagles used that philosophy Wednesday, getting eight steals in a first half during which they forced 16 turnovers to take control in a 73-64 win at St. John's.

Marquette, which caused 23 turnovers overall and led by as many as 23 points, rank second in the Big East in turnovers forced (16.6 per game) and steals (9.2).

"Around Marquette we call it blue collar desperate," Eagles coach Tom Crean said of the defensive attitude and hard work he expects of his team. "If we're not playing that way we're not that good.

"We have to learn to keep that same mind-set throughout the game. We just have to learn and focus better."

Jerel McNeal, whose 51 steals are second in the Big East to Providence's Jeff Xavier (58), had 20 points, seven rebounds and three steals against the Red Storm. The junior guard is averaging 17.0 points during the winning streak, increasing his team-leading season average to 13.4.

James scored in double figures for just the third time in 10 games Wednesday as he had 19 points, five days after scoring only four on 2-of-11 shooting in a 72-54 win over then-No. 22 Pittsburgh. The junior guard did have a career-high 12 assists against Pitt, and is leading the team with 4.4 per game.

Marquette is 13-1 at the Bradley Center this season, with the lone loss coming to Louisville on Feb. 4. Rutgers (10-17, 2-12) has played the Eagles there only once, losing 67-47 last season.

The Scarlet Knights, who are tied with South Florida at the bottom of the conference, are looking to avoid their first seven-game losing streak since dropping eight in a row from Jan. 2-27, 2001.

Their current slide reached a season high-tying six games Sunday after Corey Chandler badly missed a 3-point attempt in the final seconds of a 71-68 loss to then-No. 20 Notre Dame.

"I don't get disappointed, it is what it is," Rutgers coach Fred Hill said. "The guys are working. When you have a tough season, and go through a lot of tough things, to do what we did today and battle just shows how upbeat and positive the players are.

"I'm looking at all the signs of where we're headed and they're very positive. There are no moral victories. I'm looking for us to get better."

Rutgers hasn't won since a 77-64 victory at then-No. 13 Pitt on Jan. 26, three days after surprising then-No. 18 Villanova 80-68.

JR Inman, the Knights' leader with 12.9 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, is averaging only 8.8 points during the six-game slide but had his highest-scoring game in nearly a month with 14 points on Sunday.

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