MILWAUKEE (Ticker) -- Marquette got a sterner than expected test as it heads into Conference USA play.
Travis Diener scored 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting as the 23rd-ranked Golden Eagles held off stubborn Sacred Heart, 77-72, for their 11th straight home win.
Marquette (9-2) begins its Conference USA slate on January 7 at Houston and did not figure to have much trouble with Sacred Heart (4-5), a Northeast Conference school that was 0-6 against ranked opponents since moving to Division I in 1999.
But Maurice Bailey scored 18 points and Jarrid Frye added 14 off the bench as the Pioneers battled back from an 11-point halftime deficit.
"We tried to treat tonight like a league game," Marquette coach Tom Crean said. "I felt that Sacred Heart was as good as any of the games we have had at home, besides Notre Dame. They are good. They play hard, they make shots."
Bailey split two free throws with 10 1/2 minutes remaining, capping a 7-0 burst and getting Sacred Heart within 53-51.
A jumper by Brandon Bell pushed the Golden Eagles' lead back to 61-53 with just over seven minutes to play, but the Pioneers did not wilt. A 3-pointer by Bailey made it 62-61 with 5:47 left.
"I am very pleased with the way we played," Sacred Heart coach Dave Bike said. "We played solid defense and executed well. ... I think we have shown people all year that we are a tough basketball team and we are never going to quit."
Bailey drained another jumper four minutes later to keep Sacred Heart within three points, but Diener answered with a 3-pointer and made two free throws in the final seconds.
"We are 9-2 going into league play, I think that is a good place to start," Diener said. "We have obviously a lot of things to work on, defensively, offensively. ... We didn't play our best game tonight, but we continue to make plays and win games."
Steve Novak and Terry Sanders added 12 points apiece for Marquette, while Kibwe Trim added 13 on 5-of-6 shooting off the bench for Sacred Heart.