No. 24 Cincinnati 80, Marquette 68
CINCINNATI (AP)—With Marquette missing its best player, all No. 24 Cincinnati had to do was let its two formidable power forwards take over the game.
Eric Hicks and Jason Maxiell were up to it again.
Hicks scored 17 points and Maxiell added 14 on Thursday, leading the Bearcats to an 80-68 win in Marquette’s first game without leading scorer Travis Diener, lost for the season with a broken hand.
Cincinnati (21-6, 9-4 Conference USA) got up by 28 points in the second half before coasting, one of the Bearcats’ worst habits. Marquette hit some late 3s, cutting the lead to seven points in the final minute against Cincinnati’s reserves.
“We get passive,” coach Bob Huggins said. “We come out and play really, really hard, then get a lead and get passive. We get comfortable, and it’s hard to play this game comfortable.”
Marquette (18-9, 6-8) had trouble finding shots without Diener running the show. Cincinnati is No. 2 in the nation in forcing opponents to miss, holding them to 36.8 percent—exactly what Marquette shot.
Diener, one of the nation’s top point guards, led the conference in scoring (19.7 points per game) and assists (7 per game) when he broke his hand Tuesday during practice. He had surgery and will miss the rest of his senior season.
Steve Novak led Marquette with 25 points, going 7-of-12 from behind the 3-point arc. Sophomore guard Dameon Mason took Diener’s spot in the lineup and had 17.
Diener was upbeat and smiling as he walked around the court during pregame warmups, slapping hands with teammates as they stretched on the floor. Huggins spotted Diener, walked over to him, shook his hand and warmly wrapped an arm around his shoulders.
Huggins said something that made both of them laugh, then pumped his hand again before walking away to attend to his team.
Then, the Golden Eagles found out just how much they’re going to miss Diener.
Marquette had won three of its last five games, showing signs of stabilizing. Without Diener, the Golden Eagles looked lost on offense. They couldn’t get into a flow without the school’s career 3-point leader on the floor.
“When they called plays, I know a lot of people weren’t in the right spots,” Hicks said. “There was confusion at times. I could tell they missed not having Diener out there.”
Coach Tom Crean called a 30-second timeout after Cincinnati surged ahead 13-4 in the opening minutes. Diener walked pensively around the perimeter of the huddle, and a fan in the Cincinnati student section held up a sign that read: “No Diener No Chance.”
Crean thought his team missed Diener’s leadership at the outset.
“Probably, but that’s not an excuse,” Crean said. “We’ve got to learn to deal with it. We figured it out in the second half.”
Cincinnati got open 3s over Marquette’s zone, packed in to try to contain Maxiell and Hicks. Nick Williams made three of his first four shots from behind the arc, putting the Bearcats in control early. Williams finished with 16 points.
Freshman walk-on guard Ryan Patzwald made a 3 and a jumper during an eight-point spurt, and Hicks made a turnaround jumper and three-point play that put the Bearcats up 38-21 at halftime.
Marquette had only two assists in the first half, underscoring how much it missed Diener.
Hicks and Maxiell scored Cincinnati’s first 10 points in the second half, helping the Bearcats extend their lead to 20. Cincinnati led by as many 28 before Marquette closed the gap down the stretch behind Novak’s long-range shooting over the Bearcats’ back-ups.