"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Saturday, April 30, 2011

McNeal makes case for NBA by dominating a big front line again in title loss

Sound familiar? McNeal drives past the trees for 29 points and 11 rebounds, but his 6-foot-5 and under team loses the championship.

With no teammate taller than 6-foot-5 on the court most of the game, 6-foot-1 ½ Jerel McNeal was the only Rio Grande Viper able to go up against the opposing line of 7-footer Scott VanderMeer (Illinois-Chicago), 6-7, 220 pound bull Michael Haynes (Fordham) and 6-foot-9 Stanley Robinson (UConn).

McNeal shot 12 times after a drive to the hoop, missing only once as he hit 8 shots and drew fouls 3 other times. McNeal set up another 17 points on his game-high 6 assists, but teammates missed another 10 open treys after McNeal had driven to draw the defense and then kicked the ball out.

McNeal even went among the trees to grab a game-high 11 rebounds after seeing his teammates destroyed on the board the first two games in the series.

However, in a result too similar to his Herculean 30-point performances against Stanford and Missouri, the Iowa Energy front line simply dominated the Vipers front line to claim the NBA Developmental League title, 119-111.

McNeal1st quarter2nd quarter3rd quarter4th quarterTotal
Drives1-1, fouled 11-13-43-3, fouled 28-9, fouled 3
Ins. Arc0-00-0, fouled 10-00-00-0, fouled 1
Free throws1-23-30-03-47-9
Non-shootingFouled 1Shot 1 TechFouled 1 on rbFouled 14 fouls
Total shooting1-4, 1-2, 3 pts2-2, 3-3, 8 pts3-6, 6 pts4-6, 12 pts10-18, 29 pts
Assists/Pts.3 asst = 8pts2 asst = 6 pts1 asst = 3 pts06 = 17 pts
Kickout missed214310
ScoreLed 39-34Trailed 61-62Led 88-81Lost 111-119

Just two weeks after getting his first 10-days in the NBA with the Hornets, McNeal once again made his case that he belongs during another in a long string of dominating performances at the next highest level.

1st quarter

With the Vipers apparently realizing they had no chance to stop the Energy inside in a half court defense, McNeal locked up with MVP Chris Stinson (Iowa State) full court and shut him out for almost 10 minutes. Stinson scored the one trip the Vipers put another defender on him, but other than that hit only a scoop shot against McNeal in the final minute of the quarter to finish with 2 points in 11 minutes of McNeal guarding him.

McNeal actually missed his first three shots of the game, two jumpers in the lane after getting a rebound and loose ball and a 3-pointer. However, near the end of the quarter he drove from half court on the right side through four defenders, a la Dwyane Wade vs. the Mavericks in the NBA championships, to score and give the Vipers a 39-34 lead at the end of the quarter. Starting with that basket, he would finish the night hitting 10 of his last 15 shots. In addition to his three assists that quarter, he twice in the first half had the “hockey assist,” with a great pass that led to another great pass and a basket.

2nd quarter

In the 2nd quarter McNeal was perfect shooting. He drove from 25 feet out to beat his man and the 7-footer at the hoop, then moments later curled to the left corner for a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer. The one time he pulled up for a jumper inside the arc he was fouled – hitting both free throws – and he added a technical free throw to score 8 points in the quarter to help the Vipers maintain a lead. However, with 59 seconds left he was whistled for his 3rd foul of the quarter and 4th foul of the game. With him on the bench, the Energy went on a quick 6-0 run to close the half with a 62-61 lead.

3rd quarter

McNeal missed two treys in the quarter, but with all his teammates simply sitting around the arc, McNeal drove to the left side of the rim three times to score. He also went in for three more rebounds.

However, the Energy took advantage of the McNeal’s cautious defense with four fouls. They were able to go at him knowing he couldn’t risk a 5th foul and that there was no one else on the Vipers athletic enough to keep up with them or big enough to deny them at the rim. While McNeal did enough on offense to keep the Vipers ahead 88-81 by the end of the quarter, the game had settled into an exchange of every Viper except McNeal trying 3-pointers while the Energy dominated them going to the hoop.

4th quarter

The turning point of the game came with 9:06 to go. The Energy had just taken an 88-90 lead and stole the ball again. McNeal was the only defender to get back against the break, and he popped out of the arc to try to draw a charge that could have enabled the Vipers to get the ball back and tie the game. He was a split second late planting his feet, resulting in his 5th foul and several minutes on the bench during which the Energy took control of the game.

However, once back, McNeal led a final run. Despite the five fouls, he made an incredible defensive play to go straight up with the much taller Robinson and deny him a lay-up, then drove to the other end of the court to score to the left of the basket to cut it to 95-102. Moments later he snuck behind Robinson to the right of the basket, took a pass, and banked it in just before Robinson could reject it to pull the Vipers within 101-105 with 3:40 to play.

After trading 3-pointers, the Vipers had their last chance with 1:25 to go. After a 3-pointer cut the lead to 104-108, McNeal and Jon Scheyer trapped a Energy player and the ball was poked away. McNeal grabbed it and broke to the basket, then threaded a pass to Richard Roby (Colorado) only to have Roby’s lay-up rejected by a trailing Robinson. The Vipers fouled on the rebound, and instead of a 106-108 score, it was 104-110 with 1:25 to go and over despite on more trey from McNeal.

Future in the NBA?

While we can’t get around the fact that only playing the shooting guard position at 6-foot-1 ½ (official NBA measurement without shoes) does not usually result in time on an NBA court, we can only hope that that McNeal’s ability to take it to another level this year will get him a nitch somewhere in the NBA next year.

Currently 104 of the players in the NBA, approximately one out of every five, played in the D-League, so the fact that McNeal has been dominating other players just below the NBA is encouraging. His combination of 3-point shooting and drives to the hoop to score and get fouls could make a GM somewhere think he would be worth having on the court for a few minutes.

Many gave up on Tom Copa before he eventually made the NBA after a few years, so we can keep hoping Jerel does the same if he keeps playing at this level. It was great that Buzz made the trip to see him score 37 to keep the Vipers from being eliminated in Wednesday’s game.

However, as I’ve stated before, even if he never plays a minute in the NBA, Jerel has to be remembered as one of the greatest college players in the history of Marquette basketball. Almost 700 players have taken the court for Marquette, and only five times in all those years have the sports writers agreed that an MU player was one of the best 10 players in the entire country (1st or 2nd team AP All-American). Based on the only other four players who can make that claim, Jerel should always be remembered as one of the greatest:


1971 – Dean Meminger
1972 – Jim Chones
1977 & 1978 – Butch Lee
2003 – Dwyane Wade
2009 – Jerel McNeal

Finally, the box score below for last night’s game indicates just what a one-man show Jerel was for the Vipers.

Rio Grande2-pointers3-pointersFTRebAsstStlPts
M. Janning1 of 35 of 91 of 2104218
M. Faye2 of 22 of 71 of 230011
P. Sullivan1 of 30 of 02 of 22304
J. McNeal8 of 122 of 67 of 9116129
J. Scheyer2 of 32 of 101 of 244011
C. Atchley0 of 04 of 72 of 250214
R. Roby5 of 110 of 32 of 6 44312
T. Harris2 of 32 of 60 of 041010
K. Lewis1 of 10 of 00 of 00012
Totals22 of 3817 of 4816 of 2532229111

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