Missouri benefited from a controversial foul call and Marquette got a career game from a sophomore guard today to advance to a second-round meeting in the NCAA tournament's Midwest Region on Saturday at the RCA Dome. Both teams were fortunate to win against determined underdogs.
Travis Diener scored 29 points to lead No. 3 seed Marquette to a hard-fought victory over No. 14 seed Holy Cross, 72-68, the Crusaders' third straight NCAA opening-round setback.
Missouri (22-10), a No. 6 seed, needed a flurry of good fortune in the final seconds to survive No. 11 seed Southern Illinois (24-7) -- including a foul call with 4.1 seconds remaining that resulted in a game-winning free throw.
Rickey Paulding delivered the Big 12 Conference Tigers a 72-71 victory after the Salukis' Jermaine Dearman was called for a blocking foul -- a close call with the score tied and Paulding driving for the basket. Paulding missed the first free throw amid boos from the crowd. He then sank the game-winner.
Kent Williams missed a three-point effort at the buzzer as the Salukis failed to duplicate their NCAA tournament performance of last season, when they won two games.
"I felt like it was a charge," said Dearman, who fouled out on the play in front of his hometown crowd.
"I thought it was going to be a charge and I thought we were going to have the ball," said Bruce Weber, the Missouri Valley coach of the year. "Or it's a no-call. But it happens. There's not much you can do about it. It's frustrating. But we should have made plays before that, taken care of business."
Instead, Missouri went on a late 11-0 run to turn a six-point deficit into a five-point lead. Paulding hit a jumper to end that run at 69-65. But the Salukis, who forced 23 turnovers, tied the score at 71 on a layup by Dearman with 25 seconds to play. That led to the drive by Paulding.
"Fortunately, I got the call," he said.
* MARQUETTE 72, HOLY CROSS 68: The Golden Eagles' Diener comes from Fond de Lac, Wis., and a basketball family that stocks Conference USA with players. His cousin, Drew Diener, just finished his career at Saint Louis, and Drew's younger brother, Drake, plays for DePaul. "The shots just fell and I hope they keep falling," said Travis Diener.
Diener proved to be the difference as Dwyane Wade, Marquette's top scorer during the season, struggled much of the game, finishing with 15 points. Diener hit his first four shots, including two threes, as the Golden Eagles (24-5) took a 12-point lead with three minutes to play in the first half.
Holy Cross (26-5) rallied to lead briefly after intermission, but Diener hit a three with 4 minutes 30 seconds to play to give Marquette the lead for good, and Wade added an off-balance bank shot on the next possession to make it 62-58. When Holy Cross closed to 64-62, Diener scored again.
Marquette's victory meant that its coach, Tom Crean, had beaten his mentor, Ralph Willard.
"It's been emotionally challenging for me, but it's not about me," said Crean, who got his first job as an assistant coach under Willard at Western Kentucky and moved with Willard to Pittsburgh. "There's not a lot of people in my life who I respect more than him. There's not a lot of people I call 'Coach.' I've always had unbelievable respect for him and always will."
Losing to Crean's team proved no easier for Willard than Holy Cross's losses to Kentucky and Kansas in the first round the last two seasons. Diener and Wade proved too tough down the stretch for the Crusaders.
"It's getting kind of old to do this," Willard said. "You can't say enough for Travis Diener. There's goes my theory that you can't shoot well in a dome.
Unfortunately, we went 15 for 25 at the free throw line. We had our opportunities. Looking at the stat sheet at halftime, Diener had 17 of their 29 points, so I'm really pleased. I knew we could play better in the second half. We just couldn't make free throws."
A Holy Cross victory would have represented a breakthrough victory for the Patriot League.
"We've got to get over the hump," Willard said.
"The league has never won an NCAA tournament game. It was motivation for our team. I really thought we were going to win this game. But I thought we were going to win the last two games in the NCAA, too."
Having been through all three NCAA tournament defeats, Holy Cross senior Tim Szatko knew where to rank this one.
"This is definitely the most painful," he said.