MILWAUKEE – The smallest player for No. 8 Marquette is in his biggest role.
Senior guards Wesley Matthews and Jerel McNeal must rely on reserve junior Maurice Acker – not backcourt buddy Dominic James – for the rest of the season.
Marquette’s Big Three is down to two after the point guard broke a bone in his left foot early in a 93-82 loss on Wednesday night to No. 2 Connecticut.
“It’s a big loss not having Dominic,” Acker said after playing 33 minutes. “Everybody has to pick it up and get ready for the next game.”
But Marquette (23-5, 12-3 Big East) faces a brutal final stretch with road games at No. 6 Louisville on Sunday and No. 1 Pittsburgh on Wednesday. The regular season ends at home March 7 against Syracuse.
James, averaging 11.4 points and 5.1 assists, will have surgery and miss about three months, but will no longer play for Marquette after nearly jumping to the NBA following his first season when he took home the Big East Rookie of the Year award.
The rest of the conference understands just what James’ loss means.
“That kid is a great kid. I love those three guards, I really do. They’ve been so great for our league, the game,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “If they’re going to lose any of the three, and this is probably crazy to say, he’s probably the one they could replace the best. But you’re not going to replace Dominic James.”
“I feel very bad for Dominic,” said UConn coach Jim Calhoun. “He’s a terrific player.”
Acker and junior guard David Cubillan, who hasn’t played as much since off-season surgery on both shoulders, can each run the position, as can Matthews and McNeal for stretches.
Acker, who transferred from Ball State in 2006, is listed as a generous 5-foot-8, 3 inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter than James, and has started just one game but earned the program’s “Super Sub” award last year.
Against Connecticut, Acker hit his only two shots, a pair of 3-pointers, and had four assists, three rebounds and one steal without a turnover. But he’s been used sparingly during Big East games.
“(He) had zero turnovers, created shots for others and did a really, really good job, but, yeah, we’re a different team when Dominic is at the point,” Marquette coach Buzz Williams said.