C-USA Game 1: Eagles cruise into semifinals

CINCINNATI – Marquette built an 18-point first-half cushion and held off a late charge by Louisville to win 84-76 Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Conference USA Tournament.

“Our guys did a fantastic job moving the ball and taking what the defense gave them,” Marquette coach Tom Crean said. “They found open spots in the press, and they have a very good press.”After shooting a blistering 50 percent from three-point territory Wednesday against TCU, Louisville was limited to 32 percent (6-of-19) from long range against Marquette.

“(Louisville) had so many open shots (Wednesday) that I think our players totally understood that if you give them any kind of look like that, they’re plenty capable of making those plays,” Crean said.Cordell Henry led a balanced Marquette offensive attack, scoring 24 on 9-of-18 shooting. Three other Golden Eagles reached double-digits, and Dwyane Wade pulled down a team-high nine boards.

“Their point guard probably gave us more trouble than any player this season,” UL coach Rick Pitino said.”We really struggled with Cordell Henry.”

Marquette sprinted to a 14-4 lead and teetered on the brink of running the Cardinals out of the building after inflating the margin to 35-17. Pitino called a timeout, and a pair of Larry O’Bannon baskets – with a Luke Whitehead layup sandwiched in between – brought the Cardinals within 12 and re-energized a decidedly pro-Louisville turnout.

“I thought our guys got off to a great start,” Crean said. “Every time they made a run, our guys answered with a run of our own.”Louisville trimmed the lead to 11 on one occasion in the first half, but the Cardinals got no closer, and Marquette took a 42-30 advantage into the intermission.

The Cardinals came with their trademark full-court press out of the break and sliced the Marquette lead to 49-45 on an Ellis Myles layup that sent the Cardinals contingent into a frenzy.Then the Cardinals got in foul trouble.

“You can totally lock your gameplan into trying to take advantage of a foul situation, or you can stay with what’s working and stay in the flow,” Crean said.

“We tried to mix it up a little bit.”

Myles picked up his fourth foul with 13:16 and was replaced by Joseph N’sima, and Marquette immediately exploited the Cardinals inside. Oluoma Nnamaka was fouled and completed the three-point play, and Scott Merritt connected on a short jumper in the lane to push the lead back to 55-45. Whitehead picked up his fourth 30 seconds later.

“We were in serious foul trouble,” Pitino said.

But Reece Gaines refused to let Marquette put the game away. Gaines scored 10 of Louisville’s next 16 points, and when he found Whitehead on the break with 6:03 to play, the Cardinals trailed 65-63.

But Marquette outscored the Cardinals 15-11 the rest of the way, and Louisville would get no closer as the Golden Eagles advance to play Louisville in the semifinals today at 5 p.m.

Gaines led all scorers with 29 and grabbed a team-high eight rebounds, while Whitehead added 25.

“Marquette’s a helluva basketball team,” Pitino said.

“We gave them everything we had, and that wasn’t enough.”