By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published Dec 07, 2008 at 12:17 AM

Leading into its showdown with Wisconsin, much was made about Marquette's lack of size compared to the Badgers' and whether or not the Golden Eagles could mount any sort of inside presence with its guard-orientated attack.

Consider those questions answered.

Beating the Badgers at their own game, Marquette notched a signature victory in this young season, outlasting the in-state rivals, 61-58, Saturday night at the Bradley Center.

The Golden Eagles outscored Wisconsin in the paint, 28-20. They won the rebounding battle, especially on the offensive glass, by a 12-6 margin. And most importantly, they beat Wisconsin with the basic tenet of Bo Ryan's Swing offense: making more free throws than the opponent attempts.

In a nutshell, it was the kind of game that Marquette hadn't played yet this season and that it needs to play if it hopes to compete in the Big East Conference.

"I thought it was a great college basketball game." Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. "I thought, the last 16 minutes, it was Joe Frazier and Mohammad Ali."

To be sure, it wasn't a masterpiece. The Golden Eagles shot just 39.1 percent for the game and struggled from beyond the arc, starting 1-for-10 and finishing with five threes in 20 attempts. The Wisconsin offense shot 48.1 percent, leaving some work to do for Marquette's defense.

The Golden Eagles struggled out of the box, despite taking the Badgers out of their usual offensive rhythm. Wisconsin methodically took away the Golden Eagles' fast break, extending the lead to 10 points on Keaton Nankivil's dunk at 6:55.

Wisconsin led, 33-27, at the half when Jerel McNeal took over and almost single-handedly brought Marquette back into the game.

Beginning with a three-pointer that cut the Badgers' lead to four with 16:53 to play, he scored 16 straight points during a 10-minute stretch that brought the Golden Eagles within one, at 49-48, with 6:50 left. Dwight Burke tied things up when he split a pair of free throws at 6:01 and McNeal put the Eagles ahead for the first time with a three-pointer at 5:27.

Marquette never trailed again.

"He's good enough to do that," Ryan said of McNeal. "He's a guy on that team that can create things and make a lot of things happen with the ball."

While McNeal was going on his rampage, Wisconsin's offense fell silent. After Keaton Nankivil hit a jumper to extend the lead to seven at 17:08, the Badgers hit just a pair of field goals, missing eight more and turning the ball over three times.

"We scored two points in nine possessions," Ryan said. "That hurts. If we get shots on those possessions ... that makes all the difference in the world."

Trevon Hughes led Wisconsin with 14 points while Nankivil added 11.

Both Jason Bohannon and Marcus Landry struggled for the Badgers. Landry finished with just 5 points while Bohannon, appearing flustered against Marquette's swarming defensive attack, turned the ball over four times and finished with eight points.

Making matters worse was an inability to draw fouls. The Badgers' first trip to the free-throw line came with 1:41 to play in the first half. Ryan didn't seem concerned, noting the difficulty teams face getting to the line when trailing.

"You can never hope to get to the line," Ryan said. "You have to make things happen to get there."

The victory was a big one for Williams, in his first season after replacing Tom Crean. Despite the heated rivalry and intense atmosphere, he says it's just another win ... especially considering the number of games he's won, compared to Ryan and Crean.

McNeal, though, considered the victory a statement.

"We showed everybody on a very big stage that when we play the right way and together, we're a very good team," McNeal said.

Jump shots: One or both of the teams has been ranked in nine of the last 11 meetings. ... UW's Keaton Nankivil and MU's Wes Matthews were high school teammates at Madison Memorial. ... MU's Lazar Hayward set a career high with 13 rebounds. ... McNeal's 26 points was his highest performance since scoring 30 in the NCAA Tournament against Stanford. ... Marquette's 27 points at halftime were a season-low. ... Marquette's senior class dropped its first two games to Wisconsin, but finishes its four-year career 2-2 against the Badgers, who still lead the all-time series, 62-53.