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Updated: Thursday, January 8, 2004 12:05 AM EST
NCAA BASKETBALL RECAP
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(22) Marquette 65, Houston 52

HOUSTON (Ticker) -- Travis Diener scored 22 points and Scott Merritt added 17 as 22nd-ranked Marquette defeated Houston, 65-52, in the Conference USA opener for both teams.

After the Cougars closed to 52-50, Diener's free throw with 6:01 remaining ignited a 9-0 spurt that allowed the Golden Eagles (10-2, 1-0 C-USA) to take control.

Marquette became the 51st program in NCAA history and the third member of Conference USA with 1,300 wins. The other Conference USA teams to reach the milestone are Louisville and Cincinnati.

"We won the old-fashioned way, defense and rebounding," Marquette coach Tom Crean said. "Some of the bounces weren't going our way, but at the end we got the loose balls and some offensive rebounds."

Andre Owens and Marcus Oliver scored 12 points apiece for Houston (6-4, 0-1), which has dropped two straight following a five-game winning streak.

"Everyone knows they are an outstanding team and they proved it again," Houston coach Ray McCallum said. "We were right there with them, toe-to-toe with them."

Marquette has won 32 of its last 33 games when holding an opponent under 60 points.

"We knew they'd make some runs," said Diener, who made 5-of-10 3-point attempts. "Every run they made, we countered and we finally put them away. It was staying poised, never panicking."

After Steve Novak's two free throws made it 55-50, Merritt had a pair of key baskets for the Golden Eagles. Karon Bradley's jumper capped the 9-0 run, giving Marquette a 61-50 lead with 3:20 remaining.

"We don't have anyone averaging 20 points a game," said Merritt, alluding to last season's star Dwyane Wade. "But we've got three or four guys in double figures."

Novak added 10 points for Marquette, which shot only 46 percent from the field (23-of-50). But the Golden Eagles held Houston to just 38 percent (20-of-59).

"Novak and Diener are two of the premier 3-point shooters in the country," McCallum said. "They can stretch your defense. That's when Merritt was able to get some things inside."

Merritt's inside play overcame the effort of Houston center Anwar Ferguson, who scored 10 points and blocked four shots.

"He's definitely one of the best shot blockers," Merritt said. "I didn't know how good until I saw him. I had to stay aggressive and keep taking it to him."


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