Golden Victory For Struggling Eagles

By Josh Herwitt - February 12, 2008


NEWARK, N.J. -- Tom Crean understood the scenario better than anyone.

Lose a third straight game and the road to March starts to get much slipperier.

So with Marquette coming off two disappointing losses to Louisville at home and Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., last week and falling outside of the AP Top 25 poll for the first time this season, the Golden Eagles couldn't afford to take a third straight loss with No. 22 Pittsburgh coming to Milwaukee Friday for another Big East brawl.

On Tuesday night, sophomore forward Lazar Hayward made sure of that, rising to the occasion with 23 points, nine rebounds and two steals in Marquette's 89-64 bounce-back victory over Seton Hall at The Prudential Center.

"Our guys have bounced back pretty well," Crean said following the win over the Pirates. "Our guys played with great confidence tonight and they played really well together. We talked about that on defense, we moved the ball on offense and we were committed to getting to the back boards."

Some could even say the Golden Eagles were more than just committed to the glass, holding a dominant 43-29 rebounding advantage over a Seton Hall team which shot only a meager 38 percent for the game, including a 5-for-18 mark from three.

"We're still a young team and young teams feed off of the offense instead of defense," Seton Hall coach Bobby Gonzalez explained after taking more than 50 minutes following the loss to address the media. "We couldn't score and I think that led to us getting kicked on the glass by 15 rebounds. We got beat up a little bit and we did not show enough toughness [to] respond."

Rebounding the basketball, however, is something that Crean's players are just starting to figure out.

"We're start to buy into the fact that, that's what it has to be for us," Crean confessed. "We're not obviously the biggest team. Our post players understand that rebounding is their calling card."

And in needing to forget about last week's losses and get out to a fast start, Crean's team opened the game with a 21-4 run and headed into halftime with a commanding 40-22 lead on the Pirates.

That explosive first-half run included 12 points from Hayward, who is just starting to come into his own for the Golden Eagles.

"He has always had confidence," Crean said of the 6-foot-6 Hayward. "We knew that with the season that he had last year and with an off-season of built athletics, built-up strength and working on his game that he was going to be a very good player. He is hungry to improve and he has been a good teammate to these guys and the guys really look for him and they know that they could really count on him."

Hayward, though, knows that there's plenty of other talent around him to defer to, too. On Tuesday night, all-league players Dominic James and Jerel McNeal had quiet nights for Marquette, but the Golden Eagles still managed to finish with four scorers in double figures and shoot an efficient 10-for-21 (47.6%) from three.

"We played them tough at Marquette when we lost by five," Gonzalez recalled, "but they're a better team now than when we played them before. I think that we just got out-classed tonight."

Out-classed, out-hustled, out-manned. However you want to describe it, it wasn't good if you were a Pirate fan.

But for Crean and Marquette, it was something to build off of with the last portion of Big East play providing some difficult matchups against Villanova and Georgetown in the coming weeks.

And in a league as good as the Big East, that's always beneficial.

For Crean, though, it all starts with the players.

"Our players have great spirit," he asserted before leaving his post-game press conference and heading for the airport with his team.

If the Golden Eagles hope to get back to playing the way they had been earlier this season, they will certainly need that spirit with March not all that far away.

Posted by Josh Herwitt at 09:33 PM on February 12, 2008
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