Eagles ground Falcons’ game

Marquette head coach Tom Crean often says he takes the season one game at a time and deoesn't look past any opponent.

However, against Air Force and its Princeton offense, he felt it was necessary to make an exception, he said.

Even though the Falcons and Golden Eagles were on opposite sides of the Black Coaches Association Classic bracket and a showdown in the finals hinged on both programs' winning their first two games, Crean and his coaching staff began prepping his players Friday for the Falcons.

Each day, practice time was devoted to the game. Players watched video of Michigan State's 63-56 victory over Princeton in the 1998 NCAA Tournament to learn how the Spartans — a team Crean was an assistant coach for at the time — defended the offense. The coaching staff covered the locker rooms, meeting rooms and offices with over 200 signs bearing the message "Never relax," Crean said.

"Yeah, because you need to be reminded," said senior forward Todd Townsend, when asked if the message helped. "Especially with a team like Air Force, there are so many things … so many backdoor cuts, so many players, you've got to keep telling yourself to never relax."

Marquette did not let it happen Tuesday night on its way to defeating Air Force 69-65 in the tournament final.

"We pulled out all the stops" to prepare, Crean said after the game. "But really this was the players. They bought in, they were in watching film last night, today, before our walk-through this afternoon. They really wanted to play well."

Senior point guard Travis Diener arguably played the best.

He torched the Falcons for 34 points to set a career and BCA single-game scoring record. He also set the three-game tournament record with 77 points and was named tournament MVP.

"Diener killed us," Air Force head coach Chris Mooney said. "He's a great player."

The senior point guard was at his best midway through the second half. After senior guard Antoine Hood's layup gave the Falcons a 50-46 lead with 10:28 to play, Diener responded by draining three straight 3-pointers.

The treys, a couple of which came off of quick ball screens in transition, gave Marquette a 55-50 lead with 9:07 to play.

"That really proved to be the turning point," Mooney said. "We really try to defend the 3-point shot. I think last year we gave up less than three a game. Coming into today we gave up four in the first two games. Some of the ones he was hitting were tough to defend."

"Tonight I think we needed a spark offensively when they got the lead in the second half," Diener said. "Shots were falling in the second half for me. Guys were doing a great job of getting me open.

"Chris Grimm, probably nobody noticed, but I know two of them at least he set a nice screen in the middle of the court for me and gave me a wide open shot."

Sophomore guard Dameon Mason was second on the team in scoring with 12 points, junior forward Steve Novak added 10 points and senior forward Marcus Jackson added seven rebounds.

Even with the Golden Eagles' offensive attack, Air Force never allowed Marquette to pull away.

The Falcons made 13 3-point shots on 40.6 percent shooting from behind the arc, and four players finished in double figures.

Air Force's success on offense might have been the team's downfall.

"We like to control the tempo of the game, and we didn't do as good of job," Mooney said. "We were able to score and therefore I think we started taking shots a little bit quicker than we usually do and we didn't exercise the discipline that we normally have in our offense."