MILWAUKEE (AP) -Jerel McNeal got a big congratulatory bear hug from former Marquette star George Thompson, the man he'd just unseated as the school's all-time scoring leader. He also got a dose of perspective: Wish you guys could have pulled out a win the other night.
``I know, I know,'' McNeal answered. ``I wish we could, too.''
McNeal scored 23 points in Marquette's loss at Villanova on Tuesday, running his career total to 1,776 and pushing him past Thompson's career mark that stood for 40 years.
But when asked to reflect on his achievement Thursday, McNeal didn't spend much time patting himself on the back. Not with the 10th-ranked Golden Eagles suddenly struggling on defense and facing a two-game losing streak going into Saturday night's game against St. John's.
erything, we'll have a hard time winning any games,'' McNeal said.
McNeal is earning praise for his offense, but he knows the Golden Eagles won't be able to straighten things out for the NCAA tournament unless they get back to playing better defense.
Marquette coach Buzz Williams put it more bluntly.
``There's only one problem: We don't guard,'' Williams said.
The Golden Eagles became one of the nation's biggest surprises by winning their first nine Big East games. But then they lost by a point on the road to conference underdog South Florida last Friday and were blown out by No. 13 Villanova 102-84 on Tuesday.
The Golden Eagles allowed the Wildcats to shoot 72 percent from the field in the second half, including 6-of-8 from 3-point range.
``We've got to get back to defensively being much, much better, the way that we were during the nine-game streak,'' Williams said. ``And if we don't, we'll lose the next nine.''
As potent as Marquette can be on offense, McNeal said scoring can't carry them to where they want to be in March.
``We're sort of in the mindset right now, I think we get into a little bit, we think we can outscore people,'' McNeal said. ``We definitely don't have the team to do that. If this team isn't locked in defensively, we're going to have a hard time beating anybody.''
said the Golden Eagles have to get back to relentlessly hounding guards on the perimeter and preventing dribble penetration.
``Coming out, setting that tone, getting after people, making it hard for them to run their offense,'' McNeal said.
And while Williams mostly has defense on his mind these days, he took time out to praise McNeal for setting the scoring mark.
``I think his toughness defines him as a person, and I think that it defines him as a player,'' Williams said.
McNeal tried to downplay the record, saying he'll probably appreciate it more when his college career is over.
``It's very humbling,'' McNeal said. ``And I think it'll really set in a lot more once my time is over and I don't have to worry about being competitive and coming to the gym and figuring out how to keep this team on the winning side of things right now.''
Thompson praised McNeal for doing things the ``right way'' and said he was a worthy successor for the scoring mark. But McNeal noted that Thompson set his mark in only three seasons and before the advent of the 3-point line.
``When the shorts were tight - and short,'' joked Thompson, who averaged 20.4 points a game.
Pretty remarkable, isn't it?
``Yeah,'' Thompson deadpanned.
That's why McNeal says the record will always be Thompson's.
Neal said. ``He did it in three years with no 3-point line, and that's amazing. That makes him a very prolific scorer and one of this university's best players.''
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