CINCINNATI (AP) -- With Marquette missing its best player, all Cincinnati had to do was let its two formidable power
forwards take over the game.
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
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 (No. 22 ESPN/USA Today; No. 24 AP) is No. 2 in the nation in forcing
opponents to miss, holding them to 36.8 percent -- exactly what
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.
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
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'
Maryland point guard Melo Trimble, considered a lock to leave the program before struggling in the second half last season, has withdrawn from the NBA draft and will return for his junior season.
Louisville's Chinanu Onuaku, who recently underwent a medical procedure to correct a heart rhythm issue detected during the combine, will keep his name in the NBA draft pool.
Andrew White III will return to the Nebraska men's basketball team next season after removing his name from the NBA draft.