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Conference USA Notebook

November 25, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Conference USA Notebook

by Zach Van Hart

Blue and Gold champs, barely

No. 24 Marquette improved its record to 3-0 and won its 28th annual Blue and Gold Tournament during the weekend, but not without a scare. After cruising against Savannah State Friday, 79-41, the Golden Eagles held a narrow one-point lead with less than two minutes remaining before beating Valparaiso, 75-69.

Travis Diener scored the biggest basket of the night, hitting a lay-up with 23 seconds remaining to give Marquette a five-point lead, which sealed the win. Diener lead the Eagles with 26 points. Scott Merritt, who made a pair of free throws after the Crusaders had closed the lead to one, finished with sixteen points and ten rebounds.

Valpo hurt itself during the final 90 seconds of the game, going 1-of-5 from the free throw line. Ali Berdiel took the fair share of the blame, missing the front end of a one-and-one and then two freebies on back-to-back Crusader possessions during the stretch.

Diener and Merritt carried the team on their shoulders, as no other players scored in double figures and only Scott Novack helped out Merritt on the boards, finishing with seven. Novack however struggled from the field, going 1-of-8, and scored only five points. Along with his 26, Diener added nine assists and was named Tournament MVP.

The Eagles dominated during their first game of the tournament, taking an early 16-3 lead on the Tigers and never looked back. Merritt lead the team with seventeen points, while Diener scored fourteen. Sophomore Joe Chapman also performed well, scoring thirteen.

Different shades of Brown

Two of C-USA’s best players, DePaul’s Andre Brown and Charlotte’s Demon Brown, started out their seasons on the opposite ends of the scale Friday night.

For Andre Brown, it was a promising start to what could be a breakout season. Brown finished with nineteen points and true to his forte, a game-high thirteen rebounds as the Blue Demons opened the season with a 73-61 win against cross-town Loyola-Chicago.

Brown was aided by Delonte Holland’s fifteen and Drake Diener’s eleven points. Lead by Brown, DePaul dominated on the boards, 49-34. They were able to control the game and the tempo early and never relinquished that control.

For the other Brown, the season-opener did go as planned. Demon only shot 2-of-10 from the field, including 2-of-9 from behind the three-point line, and scored just eight points. As a result, the 49ers lost their home opener, 80-76 to George Washington.

Brown only scored less than eight points three times last season and scored in double-digits during his first nine games to start the 2002-03 season.

Starting with a career-high again

Saint Louis’ Chris Sloan probably wishes every game was the season opener. Sloan scored a career-high 22 points to lead the Billikens to a close 64-58 win against Eastern Kentucky Friday night at the Sawis Center.

The 6-foot-7 senior forward topped his preview career-high of seventeen, which he set during SLU’s season opener last year against Tennessee-Martin. Friday, Sloan shot 6-of-9 from the field, hit both three-pointers he attempted, went 8-of-10 from the free throw line and also grabbed six rebounds.

If Sloan can keep up this scoring, it bodes well for the Billikens. Including Friday’s win, Saint Louis is now 9-3 when Sloan hits double digits. Plus, every SLU game figures to be low scoring with defensive-minded Brad Soderberg at the helm, so the more production from Sloan, the better.

Off to good starts

Three of C-USA’s undercards did what exactly is needed to get out of the conference cellar – win its season opener. East Carolina, TCU and USF each posted impressive wins during the weekend to start the season 1-0.

The Pirates blew out Campbell at home Saturday, 93-54. The usual suspects showed up for ECU, including Derrick Wiley, Gabriel Mikulas and Erroyl Bing. Wiley finished with a double-double, 22 points and eleven boards, Mikulas had thirteen and nine respectively, and Bing registered ten and five respectively off the bench.

The Horned Frogs started out of the box with a very balanced and unselfish obliteration of Texas-Arlington, winning 87-58. TCU dished out 21 assists and four players scored in double-digits. The big news was the play of junior point guard Marcus Shropshire. A transfer player from Texas Tech after Bobby Knight showed up, Shropshire shined with fourteen points and eight assists. If Saturday was a sign of things to come, Corey Santee and Shropshire could cause fits for opponent’s backcourts.

The Bulls won in less convincing fashion, taking down Florida Atlantic 79-66 Friday night. Jimmy Baxter led USF with 20 points, something he will have to do a lot of this season. Robert McCullum recorded his first win as head coach for the Bulls.

When will we see Louisville?

The Cardinals have to wait until Saturday, Nov. 29 to start their season. The reason why? Freedom Hall is host to the 30th annual North American International Livestock Exhibition.

Same what? Freedom Hall is a part of the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center, meaning that several times throughout the year, especially in November, it holds these kind of events. This is the reason Louisville has started 25 of its 29 seasons played at Freedom Hall on the road.

The Cards will start the 2003-04 season the same way, as they play Iowa Saturday at the John Wooden Tradition in Indianapolis. Louisville plays its home opener against a tough Western Kentucky team Thursday, Dec. 4 at 9 p.m.

Player of the week

Antonio Burks, Memphis

The senior guard showed that while the Tigers are a deep and talented bunch, he’s the one who drives the bus. Burks scored a double-double, 20 points and ten assists, during Memphis’ 94-64 win against Fordham Saturday. Burks has averaged 9.5 assists during the Tigers’ first two games.

Games to watch

Charlotte at Syracuse, Wednesday at 7 p.m. – Demon Brown and freshman Martin Iti combined for only eight points against George Washington last week. If they have any shot at beating Gerry McNamara, Hakim Warrick and company, both have to step up big time at the Carrier Dome.

Louisville vs. Iowa, John Wooden Tradition in Indianapolis, Saturday at 1:30 p.m. – The Cardinals start their season later than any other team in the country. Iowa sophomore guard Pierre Pierce is a gamer and scored 26 during the Hawkeye’s 107-80 season-opening win against UNC-Asheville.

Austin Peay at Memphis, Saturday at 7 p.m. – The Tigers could easily overlook the Govs since the game is in Memphis, but this could be a big mistake. Austin Peay returns all five starters from a NCAA Tournament team a year ago. And if Memphis forgot, the Govs walked into the Pyramid last year and left with an 81-80 overtime win.


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