LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP)—Larry O’Bannon fought off a grin as he left the floor late in Louisville’s 99-52 victory over Marquette on Wednesday night.
The senior guard hit six 3-pointers and scored 30 points, both career highs, and punctuated the best game of his career with a steal and breakaway dunk.
Coach Rick Pitino took him out seconds later, prompting chants of “Lar-ree! Lar-ree!” from the capacity crowd.
“You can’t beat that—20,000 people yelling for you. You can’t even dream of that,” O’Bannon said. “I didn’t want to crack a smile, but I was sunshine on the inside.”
The soft-spoken O’Bannon also had five rebounds and seven assists for the Cardinals (17-3, 5-1 Conference USA), who handed Marquette its most lopsided loss ever.
“Larry had a special night,” Pitino said. “I’m really pleased for him. It’s wonderful to see a person like him have a game like this. He exemplifies everything we’re trying to build with our program.”
Francisco Garcia added 14 points for the Cardinals, who snapped a three-game home losing streak to Marquette and won for the 11th time in 12 games. Since a 60-58 loss to Kentucky on Dec. 18, the Cardinals have won 11 home games by an average of 28 points.
Pitino, who coached Kentucky from 1989-97, jokingly asked reporters to not give the Cardinals too much publicity.
“We’d rather you write about Kentucky and leave us alone,” Pitino said. “Let us stay second fiddle because we’re not good when we think we’re good.”
Todd Townsend had 17 points, and Marcus Jackson grabbed 12 rebounds for the Golden Eagles (14-5, 2-4), whose previous worst defeat was a 57-12 loss to Creighton in 1940.
Marquette played without senior point guard Travis Diener, who aggravated a left ankle sprain in the Eagles’ 76-66 loss to Charlotte on Saturday. The 6-foot-1 Diener, Conference USA’s assist leader and second-leading scorer, had played in 114 consecutive games.
The Eagles missed the sure-handed Diener from the start, committing seven turnovers in the first 11 minutes.
“He means a lot to our club and we learned how much tonight,” said Marquette coach Tom Crean.
Juan Palacios’ 3-pointer with 9:18 left in the half gave Louisville a 21-13 lead and launched a 14-5 spurt.
O’Bannon dismantled Marquette’s defense during the run, hitting two 3-pointers, driving for a dunk and feeding Palacios for a layup that made it 35-18.
Townsend hit two 3-pointers to help Marquette cut it to 43-30 by halftime.
O’Bannon scored 17 points in the first half and set a career high by hitting all five of his 3-point attempts.
“My teammates were looking for me and I was looking to shoot it,” said O’Bannon, who went 9-of-13 from the field. “I just had the hot hand and my teammates knew it.”
He had a layup, hit a free throw and assisted on Garcia’s 3-pointer in the first 4 minutes of the second half as Louisville’s lead bulged to 51-32.
Two years ago in Freedom Hall, the Golden Eagles recovered from a 19-point first-half deficit to beat the Cardinals.
Not this time.
O’Bannon hit his sixth 3-pointer, and Garcia scored eight straight points during a 17-0 Louisville run.
“They came out with a major onslaught in the second half and we couldn’t recover,” Crean said.
The overwhelmed Eagles were 5-of-24 from the field in the second half.
The Cardinals had lost six of the previous seven meetings in a series that has evolved into a bitter rivalry.
Last year, after Marquette’s 81-80 win in Milwaukee, Crean found a Louisville scouting report that contained phony quotes attributed to him.
Two years ago in Louisville, Cardinals’ forward Ellis Myles sustained a season-ending knee injury late in the Eagles’ 78-73 win. Myles said later he heard Crean accuse him of faking the injury.
During pregame warmups Wednesday, Crean shook hands with Myles and the two had a brief, cordial conversation.
“We just wanted to take care of business,” Myles said. “It was just another game I wanted to win.”