FREEBURG — Unable to solve Freeburg's pesky zone defense Thursday, the top-seeded Marquette Explorers found themselves trailing Freeburg 30-28 at halftime.
That was a fairly noteworthy score given Freeburg's 3-7 record at the time, but the Explorers needed about two minutes of the second half to regain control and eventually delivered a 70-47 victory at the Freeburg-Columbia Holiday Tournament.
Marquette (8-2) turned things around quickly with a 13-2 run that thrived on turnovers and led to dunks and easy layups. The Explorers helped force 24 turnovers and used the early third-quarter blitz to finally turn away the Midgets (3-8), who got 27 points and 13 rebounds from 6-foot-9 Division I prospect Justin Diecker.
Marquette outscored Freeburg 42-17 in a dominant second half.
"We know we're capable of doing that, but we've got to do that from start to finish if we want to be a great team," said Marquette coach Steve Medford, who thought it was the first time all season his squad had trailed at halftime. "You go from good to great by learning how to guard for 32 minutes. Ask Breese Central about that, they do that every night.
"When we get to that point where we can pride ourselves on the defensive end, we're going to be pretty tough."
The tournament semifinals are set with city rivals Waterloo (7-4) and Gibault (11-1) dueling at 6:30 p.m. Friday, followed by defending tourney champ Marquette (8-2) taking on Murphysboro at 8 p.m.
Marquette guards Deion Lavender and D'Tae McMurray had 18 points each and guard Mike Williams-Bey provided instant energy off the bench. Williams-Bey scored nine of his 12 points in the second half and hounded the Freeburg guards with relentless abandon.
Marquette started out fine, leading 21-15 after one quarter and hitting eight of 12 shots. But facing a zone that included the long arms of Diecker around the basket, the Explorer hit just three of 11 shots during the second quarter.
"It's a struggle, but we're going to face teams that play us in a zone all year long," Medford said. "When you play against a zone, sometimes you don't make a shots and things don't go your way. That's what happened with us the first half."
Freeburg coach T.J. Hoover wasn't pleased with the final result. But he was happy to see the Midgets force the Explorers into a bit of halftime panic while forcing them to make adjustments at both ends.
"Obviously we were right there where we wanted to be, you're up two against one of the best teams in the southern half of the state," Hoover said. "I couldn't be prouder of our boys after that first half. We had seen them play and we had a game plan where we want to keep them perimeter-oriented.
"They got a few more threes early on than we wanted (early), but I thought the kids did a real good job."
Marquette's scoring depth, quickness and defensive pressure eventually took over. Despite getting just one point in the first half from scoring leader Jake Coddington, the Explorers rode hot shooting nights from Lavender and McMurray to maintain momentum.
Coddington finished with 10 points, but had trouble against the taller Diecker inside.
Diecker had 27 points, but no one else on Freeburg generated more than six. Jacob Mueller had two 3-pointers in the second quarter for those six points and Dalton Crunk added five points.
Hoover said a stronger, more aggressive Diecker is the reason schools like Nebraska-Omaha, DePaul, South Dakota, State, Ball State and Miami (Ohio) are showing recruiting interest.
"I think he's heard from every school in the (Missouri) Valley (Conference) in one way or another," Hoover said. "He's just getting better, he's putting on some weight and he likes that weight room. He's got a lot more explosiveness now."
Columbia 84, Valmeyer 45
Down 16-15 after one quarter, the Columbia Eagles quickly responded and defeated Valmeyer. Michael Hunsaker led Columbia with 21 points and Connor Mallinckrodt tossed in 20, with Cole Foster contributing 11. Valmeyer sophomore Eric Smith scored 15 points.
Murphysboro 41, Lebanon 32
Down 31-18 after three quarters, the Lebanon Greyhounds pushed Murphysboro down the stretch before falling short. Murphysboro got 15 points from Jacob Baird and 10 from Anthony Hibbler, while Mason Christ and Taylor Schmitt each had 11 for Lebanon. Murphysboro also beat Hillsboro 58-33in its second game Thursday.
Waterloo 82, Valmeyer 36
Sophomore Rick Wiegand scored 15 points and 6-7 senior center Justin Kretchmer contributed 14 as Waterloo rolled past Valmeyer. Johnny Albers added 12 for the Bulldogs while sophomore Ryan Unterseh topped Valmeyer with 15 points.
Civic Memorial 59, Dupo 40
Civic Memorial (6-6) led 27-24 at halftime, then left the Dupo Tigers behind while cruising to an easy win. Civic Memorial's top scorer was Ben Walker, who scored 15 of his 20 points in the second half. LaRandy Warren added 14 for the Eagles while Dupo got 12 points from senior Matt McDonald.
Lebanon 55, Hillsboro 36
Paul Pilackas and Zach Schoeneld netted 12 points each and Taylor Schmitt notched 11 as Lebanon rolled past Hillsboro. Hillsboro's scoring leader was Noah Jacob with 10 points.
Contact reporter Norm Sanders at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2454.