Tom Crean admitted he had little to criticize after his 12th-ranked Marquette squad played well in its victory prior to Christmas. The Golden Eagles hope to play in a similar style Saturday against Savannah State in their final tuneup before the start of Big East play.
Marquette (9-1) put together one of its most complete performances to date in an 89-42 rout of Coppin State on Dec. 21 for its fifth straight win. Dominic James had 17 points and six assists, and led a stellar defensive effort against Eagles guard Tywain McKee, who was limited to no shots and two points after entering the game averaging 17.1 points.
“Everything starts on defense,” said James, a junior point guard averaging team highs of 15.1 points and 4.8 assists. “I told coach I want to guard their best player.”
Crean, though, also has the luxury of rotating James on an opponent’s best player with Jerel McNeal, who is tied with James for the team lead with 24 steals, and Wesley Matthews.
“It’s contagious,” Crean said of his team’s defensive intensity. “It’s contagious for this team, and it starts with those three guys.”
Matthews has been making more of an impact on the offensive end recently, reaching double figures his last three games and averaging 13.3 points in that span. Marquette is scoring 81.2 points per game and shooting exactly 50 percent from the field.
McNeal is contributing 14.8 points per game, and sophomore forward Lazar Hayward is averaging 13.1 points while shooting 61.4 percent.
David Cubillan, who has a team-high 16 3-pointers, is expected to play after missing the last game with a sprained ankle. Senior forward Dan Fitzgerald is still day-to-day with a wrist injury that has forced him to miss the last five games.
After this game, the Golden Eagles begin their Big East slate with a home game against Providence on Jan. 3.
Savannah State (7-10) is playing its first ranked opponent of the season and eighth road game. The Tigers snapped a four-game losing streak last Saturday with a 62-59 victory over High Point, overcoming a slow start in which they made just one basket in the first six minutes.
Curtis Brown scored 12 points and fellow reserve Joel Davila added 11 for Savannah State, which outscored High Point 25-8 at the foul line to overcome a 38-23 rebounding deficit.
The Tigers have gone just 1-7 on the road, averaging only 52.8 points while shooting 37.3 percent from the field. They also have committed at least 17 turnovers in each road game and average 23.4 in the eight road contests.
Chris Linton is averaging a team-high 9.5 points for Savannah State, which has six players averaging at least 5.0 points.
Marquette has won both meetings between the teams, including a 69-51 victory last season as James and Matthews each scored 22 points.