MILWAUKEE -- Jerel McNeal got a colorful compliment from DePaul coach Jerry Wainwright in a season that's shaping up for many more accolades for Marquette (No. 10 ESPN/USA Today, No. 11 AP).
McNeal had 21 points and six rebounds and Lazar Hayward added 16 points and 17 rebounds in a 79-70 victory over the Blue Demons on Saturday that kept the Golden Eagles undefeated in the Big East.
"[McNeal] is like the in-law that comes over to your house," Wainwright said. "He has a suitcase and he's not leaving. I love the kid. He's a testament to what college basketball is all about. I wouldn't want him guarding me."
McNeal's defense has been one of the biggest reasons Marquette (17-2, 6-0) is off to its best start ever in conference play, topping a 5-0 mark 16 years ago when the Golden Eagles were known as the Warriors and played in the Great Midwest.
"I think a lot of guys get caught up with putting the ball in the hole a lot. A lot of people can do it, some do it better than others," McNeal said. "But there's not a lot of people who can stop a guy from putting the ball in the hole."
McNeal can score, too, but Marquette needed to rely on its vaunted pressure defense and Hayward's rebounding to improve to 13-0 at the Bradley Center this season.
Marquette, which also got 20 points from Wesley Matthews and 10 from Dwight Burke, went cold to start the second half, missing nine of its first 10 shots and failing to score for one 4 1/2-minute stretch.
"The first 4 minutes we were terrible," Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. "We were really out of character on offense and defense at times tonight. We have to be better."
The Golden Eagles shot just 32 percent in the second half, but Marquette's defense kept DePaul (8-12, 0-7) at bay. Trailing by as many as 15 points, DePaul got as close as 55-48 on a free throw by Dar Tucker, who finished with 18 points.
McNeal answered with two free throws and James, who finished with eight points and nine assists, made a steal and scored on a layup that gave Marquette a comfortable lead the rest of the way.
Wainwright called Marquette's senior-laden group unlike any a college program will see for a while because they had a chance to go pro at various points but stayed in school.
"They are everything you want your young players to be over a long time," Wainwright said. "Marquette is fortunate that they stuck together and played for the four years."
McNeal said they have already learned one of the biggest lessons.
"There's no secret to success," McNeal said. "It's how you work, pushing yourself to the limit and having an unbelievable work ethic and trying to get better."
That seems to be rubbing off on Hayward, who kept anticipating rebounds so well that Williams compares his skill to former NBA star Dennis Rodman's knack for being in the right place at the right time.
"I wanted to get a few more, but I had to front block a couple of guys," Hayward said.
But the road gets much tougher, beginning Monday night against No. 19 Notre Dame and finishing with five straight opponents currently ranked in the Top 25, a stretch that the first-year coach thinks they'll be ready for.
"We don't have to temper our excitement, we just have continue to work hard," Williams said. "It's a big game. It's Notre Dame. It's Marquette. We will be ready to play."