Milwaukee, WI – Playing for the last time on their home court at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Marquette seniors Jujuan Johnson, Luke Fischer and Katin Reinhardt sent a near capacity crowd of 17,630 home happy by combining to score 45 points to lead Marquette to a 91-83 victory over Creighton on Saturday afternoon. Each senior scored in double figures as Marquette answered Creighton’s first basket of the game with an 11-0 run of its own to take a lead it would never relinquish.
Johnson was the catalyst early as knocked down two shots from behind the three-point line and converted on a lay-up to account for eight of Marquette’s first 11 points. “I thought JJ had a very aggressive mindset to start the game, which was great,” said Marquette Coach Steve Wojciechowski. “JJ is not a hard guy to read and I could sense in his face that he was really ready to play today.”
Johnson’s three-point shooting, like his play this season, has been inconsistent. He entered the game connecting on 34 percent of his triples, well below the Marquette team average of 43 percent, tops in all of NCAA basketball. But he was dialed in early connecting on his first two three-pointers, first from the wing and then from straight on from NBA distance. “When JJ has his feet set, he’s a good shooter and I thought he did that, especially in the first half,” said Wojciechowski.
“I love it the way JJ got going early,” said Fischer. “JJ’s a dynamic player. Once he gets his shot going, guys will chase out hard to him and that opens up the drive for him.”
Starting for the first time in five games, Fischer threw down two dunks, used both hands to make three jump hooks and bullied his defender into a lay-up as he converted on 6-of-8 shots in scoring 13 points. Wojciechowski, who has labelled Fischer “one of the great all-time kids” on more than one occasion over the years, called Fischer’s play “solid.”
Coming off a 17-point performance in Marquette’s last game, a 95-84 win at Xavier, Reinhardt chipped in with 12 points scoring mostly with high-arching jump shots from distance and midrange. A two-time transfer with stops at UNLV and Southern California on his resume, Reinhardt turned down the opportunity to start on Senior Day for fear of upsetting team chemistry. His double-digit scoring effort against Creighton was his fourth game in a row scoring more than ten points.
The Marquette seniors got help from two freshmen in Markus Howard and Sam Hauser. Howard played his most complete game in a Marquette uniform. He flirted with a triple-double by scoring 18 points and putting up career-highs of nine assists and seven rebounds. Playing his first game after turning 18 years of age the day before, Howard entered the game leading the Big East and the NCAA with a blistering 55.6 shooting percentage from behind the three-point arc. His 74 treys also put him possession of the Marquette freshman record for made three-point shots previously held by former Marquette star and NBA veteran Travis Diener, now an assistant coach with the team.
Creighton pressured Howard into a 2-for-5 shooting night from distance. But when the Arizona native was run off his long distance shot, he attacked the rim and scored five field goals on a collection of floaters and lay-ups. He brought Marquette fans to their feet half way through the second half when he sliced through the Blue Jays’ defense, attacked the rim from the left side and finished on the right side using the rim as protection from a shot blocker. “Marcus played with great grit today,” said Wojciechowski. “You have to remember, Marcus has played off the ball most of his life. He’s making improvements with his decision-making.” In his last two games, Howard has handed out 12 assists while committing only three turnovers.
Hauser is a stretch four who came into the game knocking down over 44 percent of his shots from distance, good for fifth in the Big East. He connected on 3-of-5 attempts on Saturday and is now 11-for-20 in his last four games. At 6-6, Hauser has the height and length to shoot over shorter players when the defense rotates shorter wings to contest his shots. He gets a number of shooting opportunities from behind the arc separating quickly out of a screen. Using his length and understanding of positioning to rebound, he pulled down seven rebounds against Creighton, all on the defensive backboards and many of them in traffic. “Sam’s one of the top freshmen in the league,” said the Marquette coach. “I don’t know if he’ll get recognized as such after the season, but I thank my lucky stars I get to coach him. The kid is a winner.”
Creighton has done a lot of winning itself this season. Appearing in the national polls for nearly all of the first four months of the season and ascending to as high as seventh in two polls one week but unranked entering the game, the Blue Jays are still learning to play without senior point guard Maurice Watson, who sustained a season-ending knee injury in a game against Xavier on January 16. Not that Creighton lacks for talented guards because with redshirt junior Marcus Foster and sophomore Khyri Thomas, the Blue Jays still start two skilled offensive players both scoring at a double-digit clip. Foster, a Kansas State transfer, came into the game with a Big East-leading 18.8 per game scoring average.
But Foster struggled against Marquette making only 5-of-17 shots and none of the six shots he took from behind the arc. Many of his shots hit short off the rim, a possible consequence of playing over 36 minutes per game on average in Creighton’s last five games.
Thomas did his best to pick up the slack for his backcourt mate and led the Blue Jays with 23 points. A skilled two-way player suited better to the shooting guard role but taking over some of the ball-handling duties with Watson sidelined, Thomas scores from all three levels and is a disruptive defender. He provided one of Creighton’s first half highlights by stripping the ball from Howard in the Marquette front court and racing three-quarters down court to finish strong above the rim.
It does not take long looking over any NBA mock draft list before the name of Creighton redshirt freshman big Justin Patton pops up. A bouncy, lean and projectable seven footer who Creighton recruited out of a local Omaha high school, Patton was the main reason seven NBA scouts found their way to Milwaukee to watch the game.
Playing only 19 minutes at Creighton Coach Doug McDermott’s discretion, Patton showed why he was on NBA scouts’ radar. Blessed with an abundance of fast-twitch muscles, Patton does not run the court as much as he sprints it. He beat the Marquette defense down court in the first half only to muff a teammate’s pass in the paint. But that was one of the few miscues for Patton. Other than the aforementioned mishandle, Patton has sure hands and used them to make catches diving to the rim out of ball screen actions and finishing above the rim. Leading the Big East by a wide margin with a .692 shooting percentage entering the game, Patton made 5-of-7 shots to bump his percentage higher.
Patton is by far a finished product as he once struggled to finish with his left hand and another time used his right hand in attempting to finish when the better option was shooting with his left hand. Getting up shots in pregame, Patton’s shot rotation was more planetary than pure. But addition to changing ends of the court quickly and diving hard to the rim out of screens, Patton does things like block shots (1.5 per game), rebound (6.3 per game) and play with a high level of athleticism that are difficult to teach.
Having lost his two games to Marquette this season and in the process surrendering an average of over 96 points per game, McDermott was complimentary of the Marquette offense. “They swing the ball and catch it in rhythm,” said McDermott. “When Johnson makes four of seven three-pointers it changes what you can do. You have to pick and choose who you can help off of. It’s hard to stop teams that shoot threes in transition. But it was senior day and he (Johnson) stepped up. He was the difference in the game.”
McDermott knows something about playing with pace and space having coached a Creighton team in 2013-14 headlined by his son, Doug, that set a school record with 356 made triples and posted a 27-8 record. “I thought our team that year was one of the better teams spacing the ball and this (Marquette) team is right up there with us,” he said. McDermott said he gave thought to changing his team’s offensive strategy in an attempt to slow down the Golden Eagles. “I came into the game thinking we might walk it up to control tempo, but that’s not who we are and I feel like we had to try to play with more pace.”
McDermott hinted that he was disappointed with the effort of some of the Blue Jays. “We had some guys sell out to make plays for our team,” he said. “Frankly, we needed more of that.”
As the final home game of the season, Wojciechowski took the opportunity after the game to address the Marquette student section to thank students for their support. As he was finishing, Fischer asked his coach for the microphone, told him he was going to propose to his girlfriend and asked her onto the court. “She said ‘yes’ or it could have been a mess,” joked the Marquette coach.
Both teams head to New York for the Big East tournament for their first games on March 9. Marquette, the number four seed, takes on Seton Hall and Creighton, seeded number six, plays Providence.
This article was written by Tom Osowski, a correspondent and scout for NetScouts Basketball. You can subscribe to our RSS feed from the upper right corner of our home page, follow us on Facebook, or on twitter.
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