Eagles muster exhibition wins


“I’m actually surprised we won tonight,” head coach Tom Crean said. “I’m glad we won, but I’m surprised we won because we didn’t deserve to win. So we’ll take it and go with it.”

“We didn’t play as well as we wanted to tonight,” Diener said. “We came out strong the first 10 minutes of the game but we have to retain that for the rest of the game. We have to learn to be more consistent.”

Merritt was the team’s leading scorer with 23 points and two blocks. The All-Stars could not find an answer for Merritt, who used his athleticism to twist and spin inside the lane multiple times.

Diener, who was taken out of the game Thursday with a left knee injury, almost had a double double with 16 points and nine assists in 37 minutes. Mason finished with nine points, two of which came off an alley-oop dunk from sophomore guard Karon Bradley in the first half.

Marquette shot 48 percent from the field and 85 percent from the free-throw line. It had a 43-21 rebounding advantage, nine from Merritt, but also went 1-for-13 from three-point range.

Sophomore forward Steve Novak, the team’s go-to shooter, had a quiet 18 minutes, scoring four points and going 0-for-1 from the three-point line.

“He’s working hard to improve,” Crean said. “There’s no issues with how hard he works. Tonight we saw him shot faking and getting around people a little bit more. He’s going to have games where he absolutely lights it up and others when it’s like tonight, a little quiet. He was just the product of some bad transition defense.”

Thursday, Bradley and Merritt helped lead the Golden Eagles to a win over Team Nike, 86-77, without their general, Diener, who left the game in the first half because of problems with his left knee.

Only up three with just under two minutes remaining in the second half, Bradley made a crucial three that put his team up, 82-76. Marquette’s defense did not allow Team Nike to score again and Novak put the game away by making all four of his free throws in the remaining time.

“When your general goes down early like ours did, it forces everybody to do one of two things: focus in or fold up, and I thought for the most part, especially when we stopped being a jump-shooting team going into the second half, that we focused in and figured out what to do,” Crean said.

Merritt led the team again in scoring with another 23-point performance in 33 minutes. Novak found his shots on the perimeter, finishing with 18 points on 5-of-8 shooting, and 4-for-7 from three-point range.

“I was definitely comfortable (with my shot),” Novak said. ” We all have our strengths — I think last year I played a little more outside. This year I’m going to try to concentrate on inside and outside. ”

The team’s next game will be televised on ESPN2 at 7 p.m. Thursday from Madison Square Garden when it faces St. John’s in the Coaches vs. Cancer Tournament.