VERSATILE DIENER IS THE GO-TO GUY AT DEPAUL
By RODNEY McKISSIC
Drake Diener has a competitive fire yet a cool demeanor during times when others may become rattled.
That attitude surfaced at the right time Thursday night during DePaul's 76-69 double-overtime triumph against Dayton, the Blue Demons' first NCAA Tournament victory since 1989.
In a game overshadowed by cold-hearted defense and embarrassing numbers from the free-throw line, it was Diener, the Blue Demons' 6-foot-5 junior guard with a quick release on his jumper, who provided the offensive touch to an otherwise drab contest.
He scored 10 of the Blue Demons' 17 points in overtime with eight free throws and a jumper off a screen with 1:14 remaining that gave DePaul a 68-65 lead. He finished with a career-best 28 points on 7-of-10 shooting and was 4 of 7 from long range.
While DePaul finished 23 of 40 from the free-throw line, Diener was a perfect 10 for 10. He also added seven rebounds and four assists.
"I was confident going into the overtime, and we as a team were very sure of ourselves that we were going to win," he said. "Going into the second OT, we had that same feeling. We were confident. . . .
"I was in the groove and feeling good, and that is the best time to play, when shots are falling. We have so many weapons on offense, and at that point they looked for me."
DePaul looks for Diener quite often. He torched Memphis for 27 points in a January win, and Diener hit a three-pointer with 2:35 left against Bradley in December that gave DePaul the lead and capped a 20-point comeback.
Diener was the player DePaul coach Dave Leitao used last season when he desperately needed a point guard because Diener was so sure-handed.
The point is not his natural position, but Diener led the team in assists as DePaul finished 16-13 and earned a spot in the National Invitation Tournament.
Diener also became one of five DePaul players to lead the team in assists and three-point field goals in a season.
He returned to shooting guard this season and is averaging 12 points while shooting .500 from the field and .455 from three-point range. Diener's upbringing may have something to do with his manner.
He grew up in a basketball-playing family in Fond du Lac, Wis., that included older brother Drew, a former guard at Saint Louis, and cousin Travis, who plays for Marquette.
"We had quite a few battles, usually at the local YMCA," Drake Diener said. "It was always fun to compete against those guys. We all have a similar style of play.
"We definitely are different players, but in terms of playing smart and trying to make the right play, we're similar in that sense. We were always really competitive, and I think we still are. We hate to lose.
"You always want to come away from a workout being the guy who gets to talk until the next time you play. We were always really competitive."
Diener will get help as junior guard LeVar Seals returns to the DePaul lineup after missing the first-round game. He was suspended for punching Cincinnati's Tony Bobbitt in the Conference USA Tournament title game.
Seals, who averages 3.8 points, is one of the Blue Demons' top perimeter defenders.