Milwaukee, WI—It isn’t often that a team gets outshot from the field, from behind the three-point arc and at the free throw line and still wins a game, but that was the case on Sunday afternoon when the Creighton Blue Jays came to Milwaukee and defeated the Big East-leading and number 10 ranked Marquette Golden Eagles 66-60. Creighton may have been outshot, but the Blue Jays won the turnover battle forcing Marquette into a season-tying high 22 giveaways and in the process holding the Golden Eagles to 18 points below their season scoring average.
Scorekeepers working Marquette-Creighton games in recent years are wise to have their calculators fully charged to keep track of the points both teams score against each other. In the teams’ last five games covering a span of three seasons, the winning team averaged over 94 points per game. In fact, when Marquette traveled to Omaha to face Creighton in January, Marquette escaped with a victory in an overtime game that saw each team eclipse the 100-point mark. But Sunday’s game had more of a grinding than a free-flowing vibe to it right from the get-go. Creighton forced Marquette into turnovers on four of its first five possessions, and when the teams headed to their locker rooms for intermission, Marquette clung to a 33-29 lead.
Although trailing at halftime, Creighton played from ahead for over 18 minutes of the first half. Junior big Martin Krampelj, a 6-9 junior from Slovenia who has recovered from three knee operations in his career, led the Blue Jays with eight points and three rebounds in only ten minutes of action. He scored the game’s first two points with a two-handed dunk. His other two baskets also came at the rim, the second of which he scored after lifting his defender with a shot fake out on the court and driving the ball to the rim where he finished with a another flush.
Markus Howard, Marquette’s high-scoring guard who brought a Big East-leading 25.3 point per game scoring average into the game, jump started the Marquette offense midway through the first half. The 5-11 junior who scores from all three levels in addition to shooting over 91 percent from the foul line, got himself going making a runner to his right. That basket started a 21-straight run of Marquette points for Howard that included three shots from distance, all of which were contested and one that he knocked down from way behind the arc at the top of the key.
Howard finished with 33 points on efficient shooting percentages of 52 from the field, 36 from behind the arc and 78 from the line. After going off for 53 points in the team’s first game in Omaha, Howard became the first player to score 30 or more points in consecutive games against Creighton since longtime NBA guard Hershey Hawkins did it for Bradley in 1987. Howard’s six turnovers versus three assists was the only blemish on another fantastic game. Entering the game with the third most points scored by a Marquette player in a single season, Howard’s 33 points vaulted him to the top spot. One of the two players he passed in surging to the top spot was Dwyane Wade.
Asked for his thoughts on becoming Marquette’s all-time leading single season scorer, Howard said, “All I’m thinking about is not winning the game. It’s great, but I just wanted to win.” Added Marquette Coach Steve Wojciechowski, “Markus is a phenomenal player. When you think of the greats that have worn the jersey, this is a program of incredible significance, and to do that as a 20-year old junior (Howard turned 20 on Sunday) is pretty incredible. What’s really good about Markus is he’s not concerned about that right now. He’s concerned about our team and what we need to do to win.”
Creighton managed to keep Howard in check in the second half, at least relatively speaking, as the Blue Jays limited him to 12 points after the break. But Creighton did an excellent defensive job on Marquette’s secondary scorers in both halves. Creighton limited every Marquette player not named Howard to seven points or fewer. Sam Hauser, Marquette’s 6-8 junior wing scoring over 15 points per game and connecting on over 40 percent of his three-point tries entering the game, found open looks at the basket hard to come by and made only one of seven shot attempts. Hauser’s 10 rebounds did lead both teams.
Creighton’s defensive scheme was highlighted by the two-pronged approach of doubling Howard on ball screens and doubling down on the Marquette bigs when the ball entered the low post area. “With their traps (of Howard), they make running offense harder,” said Wojciechowski. “That’s what teams are supposed to do. So if someone makes running offense harder on you, you have to work harder, you have to be stronger, you have to be more fundamentally sound. Obviously, I did not do a good job of contributing that to our team. That’s on me.”
As the game wound down in the second half and the lead see-sawed, protecting the ball became an issue for Marquette. With a number of Marquette second-half turnovers coming on its perimeter, Creighton was able to gather loose balls and transition quickly into offense. The Blue Jays finished the game with 26 fast break points. “Live-ball turnovers are deadly,” said Wojciechowski. Pushing the ball after a Marquette turnover, Creighton’s Ty-Shon Alexander knocked down a left elbow jump shot on the break near the three-minute mark to give the Blue Jays a 56-54 lead, part of a 10-0 Creighton run. Creighton played from ahead for the rest of the game. Alexander, Creighton’s leading scorer averaging over 16 ppg, came up big for the Blue Jays in the last four minutes of the game when he scored 9 of his 14 total points. His triple with four minutes left in the first half was the 32nd straight game he made at least one three-point shot, a school record.
After winning 12 of 13 games, Marquette has now lost two in a row for the first time all season to see its conference record fall to 13-4. The loss dropped the Golden Eagles into a tie with Villanova for the top spot in the Big East. “If you would have told me this morning that that we would have held Creighton to 66 points, I thought we would have had a good chance to win,” said Wojciechowski. The Golden Eagles will attempt to get back on the winning track when they travel to Seton Hall for their last regular season road game on March 6.
Creighton improved to 16-13 overall and 7-9 in the Big East. It was the Blue Jays third win a row and their 10th straight game decided by eight points or less. The win set Creighton up nicely for home games this week against Providence on March 6 and DePaul on March 9 to conclude its regular season. Wins in both games would figure to put Creighton onto the NCAA tournament bubble, if in fact the Blue Jays are not there already.