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Rutgers, Marquette Pull Out Wins

February 25, 2008 Columns No Comments

Rutgers, Marquette Pull Out Big East Wins

by Ray Floriani

NEW YORK – The week saw Big East action on both the men’s and women’s side. A common denominator in this extremely competitive conference is that of respect. Whether it’s the men or women’s games once the ball is tossed up, expect 40 minutes (or more) of fierce competitiveness. Away from the arena, Big East schools like to see their fellow members do well in out-of-conference games.

Which brings us to Notre Dame.

The fourteenth-ranked Fighting Irish invaded fifth-ranked Rutgers for a women’s contest on Tuesday. ND fought gamely but came out on the short end of a 57-51 decision. Afterwards Irish coach Muffet McGraw spent some time addressing the Rutgers-Tennessee game of eight days earlier. The saying “time waits for no man” seemed to get put aside as the clock stopped for a late game eternity of about two seconds which allowed the Lady Vols to pull out an extensively discussed and debated victory.

“I was rooting for them (Rutgers),” McGraw said. “I feel they really beat Tennessee. I spoke to (Rutgers coach) Vivian (Stringer) yesterday and let’s just say she was very diplomatic in her comments. I thought what Rutgers did last year going to the NCAA championship was great for our league and I was excited for them.” McGraw watched Rutgers-Tennessee as it was broadcast live. “You just hate to see a game like that with two great programs end in that way. I was dismayed at the finish and what happened there after.”

Erica Williamson, the Irish starting center, said she saw the highlights of the finish on SportsCenter. She too was hoping Rutgers would get the win and disappointed with what transpired. “Rutgers played a great game,” Williamson said. “They are both excellent teams.”

As Rutgers-Notre Dame turned out, the Irish did a great job of controlling tempo with their 2-3 zone. The score was tied at 22 at the half. Rutgers could not get their transition game going, but did show very good patience on the offensive end. A key part of the game was an 11-2 Rutgers run from the 12-minute to 8-minute mark in the second half. That run left the Scarlet Knights with a 41-33 lead that ND never overcame.

Epiphany Prince and Matee Ajavon led the way with 18 and 15 points respectively. Stringer went with two post players for a good part of the second half and it was effective. Rashidat Junaid, a 6-4 sophomore, had six points and five boards, while 6-4 junior Kia Vaughn led the way inside with a 14-point, seven-rebound outing.

“They (Junaid and Vaughn) are both big, physical presences inside,” Williamson said. “Having them cover both blocks is very tough.”

Williamson, a 6-4 sophomore, had a number of great opportunities off high post pick and rolls. Many times she just couldn’t finish, ending up with six points on 3 of 12 shooting

“We took care of the ball, only 12 turnovers against their pressure,” McGraw said. “We got shots but just couldn’t hit them.”

“They didn’t do anything special for us,” Stringer said of Notre Dame. “But I think it’s good to see a style like theirs as well as a Tennessee, Connecticut and a Maryland. You face these different styles and you get ready for what you will see in the NCAA tournament.”

Stringer knows as well as anyone you need a one-game-at-a-time mindset. But you can’t blame her for thinking a little about the NCAA Tournament.

Marquette Men Pick Up Win

On Wednesday Marquette, ranked number 25 and playing for a good position in the NCAA Tournament, visited St. John’s, a team hoping to get to the Big East Tournament. Marquette captured the Madison Square Garden contest 73-64.

Jerel McNeal (20 points with 7 rebounds from the guard position) and running mate Dominic James (19 points) did a good deal of damage for Marquette. The Golden Eagles also defended very well and created a number of scoring opportunities by their defense. In fact, the first possession of the contest saw Anthony Mason Jr. of St. John’s attempt a jumper that was blocked by McNeal, who then grabbed the loose ball and went coast to coast and scored on a layup. Marquette, which never trailed, built a 12-point lead by the break.

Marquette came out strong the second half and pushed the margin to 21. St. John’s, on their end, kept working, and ignited by the shooting of Paris Horne, was able to trim the deficit to a manageable 10-12 point range with just under ten minutes to play. Marquette was never threatened any further, but the point was reinforced by coach Tom Crean.

“You have to keep the same mindset throughout the game,” the Marquette coach said. Crean was pleased with how his team started, especially defensively, but felt the effort eased off in the stretch. “In this league,” he said, “you have to go a full forty minutes. The won-loss records of the teams going into a game mean absolutely nothing.”

St. John’s coach Norm Roberts was pleased with the effort. “In the last eleven minutes especially,” Roberts said, “our guys played in an attack mode.”

Too many close shots that didn’t fall and a 23 of 40 free throw performance did not help the Red Storm. Roberts spoke of his inexperienced club. “We have freshmen we are asking to play like juniors,” he said.

Oddly enough, it was senior guard Eugene Lawrence who was a major culprit, shooting 5 of 12 from the line. A number of misses were in the latter part of the second half.

Mason Jr, paced the Red Storm with 20 points. That was deceptive as St. John’s actually put together the late second-half run with Mason out of the lineup. Justin Burrell, normally dependable inside, suffered through a six-point, five-turnover evening. Overall, Crean was impressed.

“They are young but have some talent,” the Marquette coach said of St. John’s. “They have a toughness about them and they have a good coach who is a tough competitor. They are going to get better.” The problem is the Red Storm fans want the future to be now.

Crean also took time to comment on McNeal, his junior guard. “He’s not getting the credit he should. He’s a tremendous defender, maybe the best in the Big East Conference. No one in our program spends more time at the Al McGuire Center working on his game. That’s a credit to his work ethic and our assistant coaches.”

Marquette also received solid contributions from 6-0 sophomore David Cubillan, who logged 24 minutes off the bench in the backcourt. The Golden Eagles did not get an offensive board from the starting four or five spots. They did get a good inside presence from freshman Trevor Mbakwe. The 6-7 forward came off the bench for a five-point, seven-rebound (four offensive) effort.


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