Milwaukee, Wl – Neither of the two Big East freshmen nominated for the Wayman Tisdale Award as the National Freshman Player of the Year is named Markus Howard of Marquette. But after dropping 34 points on Xavier on Saturday night to lead Marquette to an 83-61 victory, Howard stated his case that perhaps his name should be included on that list.
Howard scored Marquette’s first five points on a runner and wing three-point shot in helping the Golden Eagles sprint to a 21-2 lead as many in the Bradley Center sellout crowd of 19,033 were still settling into their seats. Finishing the first half with 11 points, including a four-point play making a free throw after knocking down a wing shot from distance, Howard started the second half the same way he began the game by accounting for the Golden Eagles’ first five points with a runner in the paint and a shot from behind the three-point arc.
As Xavier threatened to trim the Marquette lead to single digits, Howard kept knocking down long range jumpers, mostly off the dribble. He scored 23 second-half points to keep the Xavier rally in check. Finishing with nine three-point makes in twelve attempts on the game, he tied the Marquette single game three-point record held for 27 years by Mark Anglavar. Ironically, Anglavar was in the crowd as Marquette honored its former players as part of its celebration of 100 years of Marquette basketball.
“I play with great players and they found me in good positions,” said the always-humble Howard. “My teammates were feeling me and pumping me up and giving me supreme confidence. This was a must-win game for us. We came in with a mindset that we were going to fight, and we did.”
“That was quite the shooting display,” said Marquette Coach Steve Wojciechowski. “I’ve had the opportunity to sit on the bench for a number of good shooting games, but that was one of the best I’ve ever seen.” “That was as good a performance I’ve ever seen from a freshman,” echoed Xavier Coach Chris Mack. “It was as good a freshman performance as any I’ve coached against.”
Howard was part of a new Marquette starting line-up. After losing soundly to Georgetown on February 11 and having no games scheduled during the past week, Wojciechowski conducted spirited workouts in preparation of the Xavier game and rewarded the players he felt responded the best in practices with starting positions. In addition to Howard, Duane Wilson, Sam Hauser, Matt Heldt and Andrew Rowsey walked onto the court for the opening tip.
“I didn’t think we had the spirit and fight to the level that this time of the year and this league requires,” said Wojciechowski in explaining his starting line-up change. “That was the number one thing we needed to get fixed. We were trying to use this week to find guys we felt like would fight for the program. Those guys did.”
Playing mostly off the bench this season, the 5-10 Rowsey took advantage of his start. Following up Howard’s opening five-point burst, Rowsey showed his ignitable gene by scoring Marquette’s next ten points in less than two minutes. With early technical fouls whistled against Mack and Xavier big Rashid Gaston, Rowsey went to the free throw line, where he entered the game with a Big East best .934 free throw shooting percentage, and knocked down all four free throws. He followed up with a straight-on three-point shot in set offense and a wing three-pointer on the break as the Marquette lead grew to 15-2.
“Rowsey makes my job a whole lot easier with his shooting ability,” said Howard. “Me and him on the court together is a great thing.”
Rowsey was not the only new addition to the Marquette starting line-up to make an immediate impact. A 6-10 sophomore starting at center for usual starter Luke Fischer, Heldt guarded, rebounded and scored at a high level. His nine rebounds led the Golden Eagles and were a career high. “If you can’t be happy for that kid (Heldt), then you’ve got a serious problem,” said Wojciechowski. “The way he battled was awesome; that’s all I want from a player.”
Relegated to a bench role after starting 58 straight games, sophomore Haanif Cheatham responded with one of his best games since the start of the Big East season. A left-hand dominant player from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Cheatham drove the ball to the basket to score and draw fouls at the rim. He finished with 5-of-9 shooting from the floor and made 5-of-6 free throw attempts to score 15 points.
Entering the game allowing over 74 points per game, second worse in the Big East, Marquette showed uncharacteristic grit on the defensive end holding the Musketeers to two points in the game’s opening six minutes. “We played hard on the defensive end,” said Wojciechowski. “I thought the first ten minutes of the game may have been the best defense we played all year. Duane (Wilson) did a great job on (J.P) Macura.”
Xavier entered the season hoping to ride the trifecta of Macura, point guard Edmond Sumner and wing Trevon Bluiett to the upper levels of the Big East and beyond. That plan took a major hit when Sumner went down with a season-ending knee injury on January 7 in a game at St. John’s. After injuring an ankle against Villanova on February 11, Bluiett was unavailable for Xavier’s loss at Providence on February 15 and again for the game against Marquette. Bluiett’s nearly 18 point per game scoring average puts him fourth among Big East scorers.
“We were turning over the ball early and that set the tone in a negative way for us,” said Mack. “Turning over the ball like that didn’t give us a chance to win. I thought our poor offensive play severely affected our defense. Our bigs played great, but our guards were irrelevant.”
Asked what his message was to his players after a thorough defeat like this, Mack said he stressed that “we have a lot of basketball to play. We ran into a buzzsaw tonight, but we play in a men’s league and we have to be able to turn the page.”
Xavier was led in scoring by reserve big Sean O’Mara. Using his 6-10 size and good lower half strength, the junior not only scored an efficient 14 points on only eight shots, all from the paint, he also was a handful for Heldt and Fischer to guard and both Marquette bigs fouled out in part trying to contain O’Mara. Gaston, who was later disqualified from the game when he picked up a second technical foul as part of a double foul with a Marquette player, finished with a double-double by scoring 12 points and collecting ten rebounds.
But the night belonged to Marquette and Howard in particular. After it was announced that Howard had tied the Marquette record for three-points makes in a game, the Marquette student section burst out in “Markus Howard” chants hoping he would get an opportunity to launch another long range shot to break the record. Howard did that chance, but his shot found iron and skipped off the rim. With 1:24 remaining and the Marquette lead now at 25, Wojciechowski removed Howard from the game and gave him a big hug on his way to the bench.
Marquette welcomes St. John’s to the Bradley Center on February 21 while Xavier concludes a three-game road trip at Seton Hall on February 22.
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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