Diener does his thing Senior scores 34; MU claims title
Diener does his thing
Senior scores 34; MU claims title
High-scoring games are nothing new for Travis Diener.
But 34 points against an Air Force squad that held Mississippi to 36 as a team one day earlier? That’s simply unheard of.
Yet there he was Tuesday night, firing from three-point range without conscience and setting a collegiate high for himself in the process. Diener wound up sinking five of nine from behind the arc and 10 of 15 shots overall to lead the Marquette Golden Eagles to a highly satisfying 69-65 victory over the ever-patient Falcons in the championship game of the BCA Classic at the Bradley Center.
Dameon Mason added 12 points and Steve Novak 10 for MU (3-0), which shot 55% by speeding up the pace of the game and taking Air Force (2-1) out of its comfort zone. The Golden Eagles also made hay at the free-throw line, going 18 for 23 compared with Air Force’s 8 for 13, and on the boards with a plus-12 differential.
But the story of the game, once again, was Diener, who was named the tournament’s most valuable player after averaging 25.7 points per game and shooting 56.3% on threes in the three games.
“I knew we had to have a hammer and our hammer was No. 34, which he usually is,” coach Tom Crean said. “Certainly Travis is the straw that stirs it for us.”
Added Air Force coach Chris Mooney: “Diener killed us. He’s a great player. Tonight I thought he was the story of the game.”
MU has now won 29 consecutive home non-conference games, including 28 straight at the Bradley Center.
Air Force led, 50-46, with 10 minutes 28 seconds left when Diener took matters into his own hands.
First, it was a three-pointer from the top of the key that pulled MU to within a point. After an Air Force miss, he canned a second three, this time from the right wing, which got the Golden Eagles back into the lead at 52-50. Another Falcons miss got the ball back into Diener’s hands on the Golden Eagles’ ensuing possession, and he didn’t disappoint.
This time he buried a pull-up three from the top of the key, sending the Bradley Center crowd of 8,744 into a frenzy. Throw in a runner before his three-point barrage and Diener scored 11 straight for MU in a span of a little more than 2 minutes.
“We couldn’t keep trading threes for threes,” Falcons guard Antoine Hood said. “But when one man goes on an 11-0 run, it’s kind of hard to come back from that.”
Diener credited a rising comfort level in his perimeter shot for his outburst.
“Confidence is really high for me,” said Diener, who twice scored 31 points last season. “We needed a spark offensively, and my shots were falling in the second half. It was just one of those nights when I got hot.”
Air Force remained within striking distance over the final 9:08 but didn’t cut appreciably into the Golden Eagles’ lead until the final minute. A pair of three-pointers by Matt McCraw, sandwiched around a rare 1-for-2 effort from the free-throw line by Novak, made it 68-65 with 24 seconds left.
Fouled after an Air Force timeout, Diener made one of two free throws with 16 seconds left to give MU a four-point lead and essentially put the game away. A big block of Welch’s layup attempt by Marcus Jackson with 8 seconds left once again got the crowd onto its feet and was a fitting end to a hard-fought victory for the Golden Eagles.
MU did a solid job denying Air Force’s backdoor opportunities in the first half, thanks in large part to copious film study that began Friday. The Falcons took only three shots inside the three-point arc in the initial 20 minutes all layups and sank each one. The rest of the damage done by Air Force came from long distance, as it got unmolested looks at the basket when MU’s double-teams on dribble handoffs left Falcons shooters wide open.
“You can’t give Air Force a steady diet of anything,” Crean said. “They’re too good. The term deliberate is probably a misnomer for what they’re all about. They know what they’re looking for. If you’re even with them, they’re back-dooring you. There’s so many things.”
Air Force hit 6 of its first 9 three-point attempts and 7 of 16 overall in the first half, getting two apiece from McCraw and Nick Welch.
The Golden Eagles did well on offense themselves. Continuing to look to make the extra pass, MU got a number of easy layups and wound up shooting 52.2% as a result. MU’s biggest lead was five points with 3:43 left in the half, but a quick 6-2 run left the Falcons trailing, 33-32, with 28 seconds to go.
A wide-open dunk by Mason with 6.5 seconds left gave the Golden Eagles a three-point cushion heading into halftime but that was erased just 12 seconds into the second half.
A technical foul was assessed to the MU bench after a heated discussion between Crean and an official at mid-court heading into the locker room. That led to a free throw by Keller before the clock was started to open the second half. Then a reverse layup by Welch on the Falcons’ ensuing possession knotted the score at 35-35.
“I apologized to the team but I’ll never go in there and not stick up for them,” Crean said. “I’m not standing there without speaking my mind on what I think isn’t right. I was speaking my mind and I guess it wasn’t received well.”
Travis Diener celebrates a three-point basket that gives Marquette the lead for good in the second half on Tuesday night.
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