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March 13, 2008

Maurice Acker

Tom Crean

Jerel McNeal


COACH CREAN: First off our guys have had an opportunity with playing the late game two nights in a row, to be in the hotel room watching all these great games. The story of the tournament every year, and certainly this year, has been toughness prevails. And it's everybody it's coming down to the wire, because every team is full of players that can make plays, that can create extra possessions that have toughness. And our team right now is really learning a lot about that again at the highest level.
And ever since Jerel has been a freshman and guys that are now juniors and seniors, when they were freshmen and sophomores, we have always wanted to take that next step in this tournament and get to Friday night. Because we've always felt if you can play on Friday night at the Big East Tournament, you can play with anybody. So we're very, very proud to be one of the four teams that's going to get an opportunity to do that.
We knew we had to beat an outstanding team offensively and defensively today with Notre Dame. And our guys really turned it up in a lot of different ways in the second half.
The first half had its good moments, it had its tough moments for us. But the second half was full of what these guys have turned into Marquette basketball. Proud of what they did, proud of these two and their teammates. And we were very excited to have an opportunity to play in the semis tomorrow night against Pittsburgh.

Q. Maurice, could you speak a little about what it meant to be able to provide for your team coming down the stretch.
MAURICE ACKER: It meant a lot. We just came out as a team in the second half, we talked to each other in the locker room before we came out. We said we weren't going to lose tonight. So everybody had that mentality that we were going to come out and play our hardest, and we were going to get the win.

Q. How much better of a chance do you feel like you guys have in the postseason just having Jerel out there? Kind of compare it to last year?
COACH CREAN: There's no question it's a major difference. Last night I was so happy for him to be able to play in this tournament again. It was tough for us, obviously, last year without him. But as tough as it was for us, it was harder for us to watch him. I think I can speak for his teammates on this, I know I'm speaking for myself, it was very hard for us to watch him not have an opportunity to play here last year because of his injury. And I think he's, in the last two nights, has made up for lost time, there's no doubt about it.
So we're definitely, definitely happy with the way we're continuing to get better. I think the experience of playing in games like this, the toughness that's in it, the possession-by-possession mentality that you have to have is certainly going to help us as we go forward.

Q. Could you just comment on Maurice's play coming off the bench and how it impacts the game.
COACH CREAN: Absolutely. He's got tremendous speed and quickness, that's obvious. Size, the size of his heart is always outweighed and outshined anything that he may not have in size. And that's what I saw. I'm just fortunate that he's with us, because I made a big mistake not signing him out of high school. A big mistake. But fortunately, you don't get an opportunity many times to rectify those decisions. And Dan Fitzgerald being part of our program is one, and certainly Maurice is another.
I think from the Villanova came game a few weeks ago is when his season has really started to flourish. Our players have loved playing with him all year. They have great confidence in him. Certainly as a coaching staff we have that confidence in him. And we get it from watching him attack and just play with that abandon that he has, and that's why he's playing so well, I think.

Q. Jerel and Maurice, you two played together in high school, how does it feel to be playing together now in the Big East Tournament?
MAURICE ACKER: It really is a good feeling. Since high school we've been playing. Since really fifth great grade or whatever. But since we're on the court we have that bond. I know where he's at every time and he knows where I'm at, so it's a good feeling.

Q. Jerel, your thoughts?
JEREL McNEAL: I mean, just same thing. Just going off what Coach says. I'm just happy to be playing with him again. Just getting the opportunity. He had to sit out last year after he transferred. And I think there's no doubt just in our locker room, in everybody's mind how much he's helping us. He's the guy here. Other he was going through ups and downs in the big first season and things like that. And I was just telling him stick with it. Tonight was his time. He had to step up. He made big shots at crunch time. So he's a big-time player. I'm happy for him more than anything.

Q. You said the second half was full of Marquette basketball. Besides making a bunch of shots, what's that mean?
COACH CREAN: I think our defensive intensity turned up. I think the biggest thing for us at halftime was our talk needed to change. We needed to become much more aggressive verbally with each other in our transition defense and our match-ups. There were a couple times in the first half we let them have wide open shots when we were there. We didn't communicate on pick-and-roll as much. And we got a little stagnant offensively. It allowed them to really create the momentum for themselves in the first half. And I thought in the second half we created momentum because of our defense, because of our communication, because of our ability to stay in the backboards. And because we never stopped running and pushing. And I think that's, in a sense, what these guys have made is Marquette basketball. That's what it really means to us.

Q. Did seeing some of the other teams that had played the first day, West Virginia and Pitt win the game today, did that motivate you guys thinking it could be your day again?
JEREL McNEAL: I wouldn't necessarily say motivated us. Because I mean you're playing on the biggest stage in the country right now. Playing the Big East Tournament. Coming out and playing in the most famous arena in the world. If you can't get motivated for that, you're not a competitor.
But we definitely, I mean, it just speaks for the conference and how deep this conference is when you see all the teams that played on that first night come back and beat the team that's got the bye.
From day one, we all understand competing night in and night out about this conference just how good it is. And I think it's just a compliment to how great this conference is.
COACH CREAN: I don't think we could underestimate how well our big people played tonight against a great player, Luke Harangody, and don't underestimate the job Dominic James did. And we ask a lot of him. That's one of the things that helps when you have Maurice in the game, Dominic doesn't have to shoulder the load as much bringing the ball up, which allows him to be one of the best defenders in the country, which he is. Even though they made some shots late, I thought for the most part our guys did a great job making them earn their baskets.

Q. Maurice, I think you hit that second three to put you guys up ten with 3:30 to go. Then your teammates come and mob you in the middle of the Garden floor. What does that feel like? What's going through your head right there?
MAURICE ACKER: I mean, that just shows how we are as a team or whatever. If somebody's doing good, we're going to acknowledge that. It's just a good feeling, you know, knowing that we've got different teammates that are behind our back or whatever.

Q. You go from one very storied and long rivalry with Notre Dame to now somewhat of a new rivalry with Pittsburgh. What do you expect from the Panthers coming in tomorrow?
COACH CREAN: Well, we know they've been in this position many, many times. What is it, six out of the last seven years, seven out of eight. So I was one off in the locker room.
I mean, they have done a phenomenal job. When you think of the Big East, obviously, they're one of the first names that are going to pop up. We played very well against them a few weeks back, and it was Levance Fields' first game back. We understand it's a different team. I hope we're a different team. But we know that they pose tremendous challenges because of their toughness, because of their ability to rebound the ball, to play physical on defense, and really they're an outstanding offensive team. So, again, it's going to take a great effort from us to win because they don't have any holes or weaknesses.

Q. How was it for you last year not being able to play?
JEREL McNEAL: You know, just like I said earlier, it was one of the hardest times of my life. You know, just working all the way up to that point in the season and not being able to play in the most exciting part of the season, which is March Madness. And it's one of those things that you go through throughout your life that makes you not take things for granted. I thought about it all year. Had a whole year to think about it, and just anxious to get back to this point.
So now, I'm right back here. The year went real fast for me, and I'm just excited to be here and be playing and helping my team out and just winning games more importantly.

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