Milwaukee, WI – Markus Howard and Sacar Anim combined to score 56 of Marquette’s 66 points in helping the Golden Eagles eke out a 66-65 victory over Big East-leading Villanova on Saturday afternoon before a sellout crowd of over 17,000 in Milwaukee. The defeat, Villanova’s first in Big East play, snapped a 10-game conference winning streak for the Wildcats and narrowed their lead over second-place Marquette to one game.
Howard was his usual dynamic scoring self finishing with 38 points, the 14th time in his career the junior has scored 30 or more points in a game. But with Marquette leading by a point in the last minute of the game, Howard lost control of his dribble. Villanova corralled the lose ball and called a time out with 12 seconds left in the game. “We wanted to run a ball screen and put the ball in Phil’s (Booth) hands,” said Villanova Coach Jay Wright. “At that point in the game, you have to let the players make the decisions.”
Booth received the inbounds pass, worked off a screen above the top of the key and got downhill on the dribble to his left. He continued into the paint, but there he encountered Marquette big Ed Morrow blocking not only his path but a clean look at the rim as well. Booth’s kick out pass was deflected and although the ball eventually found its way into a teammate’s hands, the final horn sounded before Villanova could get off a shot.
“The key to the last defensive possession at the end of the game was Ed Morrow,” said Marquette Coach Steve Wojciechowski. “Because Booth got by his man and Ed stepped up to protect our basket like we wanted him to. He made Booth pass. Overall, I thought we played an outstanding defensive game against a dangerous and potent offense.”
Marquette was looking to get back on the winning track after having its own eight-game winning streak snapped by St. John’s 70-69 in its previous game. Howard did his best to get Marquette off to a good start against Villanova with 21 first-half points. The junior put his three-level scoring ability on display early connecting on a three-point shot from above the top of the key off a pass and then scoring two times on floaters, one to his left and another to his right. He drained a free throw after getting fouled on his first floater to make him responsible for eight of Marquette’s first ten points.
Howard continued his hot-shooting in the second half. Tapping often into one of his favorite moves, a stepback jump shot to his left on the left half of the court, Howard scored in the midrange and from behind the arc in helping grow the Marquette lead to as many as 15 points at 47-32 in the second half. “The stepback is something I’ve had ever since I was a little kid,” said Howard. “I adjust to how I’m being played. If it’s open, I use it.”
Led by fifth-year seniors Booth and Eric Paschall, Villanova rallied. When sophomore Jermaine Samuels knocked down a three-point shot with 6:33 to play, Villanova had regained the lead 55-53. Howard went to work again making two free throws to tie the score. He followed up those free throws with a left-handed lay-up high off the glass to beat a Villanova would-be shot blocker that put Marquette back on top 57-55 with just over five minutes left to play. It was a lead the Golden Eagles would not relinquish.
Entering the game as the Big East’s leading scorer with a 24.9 point per game average, Howard was rebounding from a rare off-shooting night against St. John’s when he made only 5 of 17 shots. He made over half of his shots from the field (13 of 24), 5 of 11 shots from behind the arc and all seven of his foul shots against Villanova. On the season, Howard has missed only 14 of his 167 free throw attempts for a .916 percentage, tops in the Big East. “Markus is an incredible player,” said Wojciechowski. “He really bounced back from the St. John’s game when he didn’t have his best game. Just his look, his energy, his leadership are as important to our team as his baskets.”
With his top two scoring wingmen–Sam and Joey Hauser–struggling to gain traction on the offensive end, the 6-5 redshirt-junior Anim stepped up to play one of his best games in a Marquette uniform. Anim is a slasher who scores primarily at the rim. But he has improved his three-point shot this season and will hunt shooting opportunities from the corners, especially the left corner. His left corner three, off a feed from Sam Hauser, in the first half increased Marquette’s lead to 20-12 and prompted a Villanova time out. He made two of three attempts from distance against Villanova and ended the game shooting 36 percent for the season from behind the arc.
Anim made all six of his shot attempts in the second half when he scored 13 of his 18 points. He got to the rim for a nifty reverse lay-up and scored four baskets in the midrange on a combination of floaters and jumpers, one after pivoting and fading away to shoot. “I made a couple of lay-ups early in the second half and got on a roll there,” said Anim. “I was taking what the defense gave me.” Wojciechowski added that Anim “was phenomenal on both ends of the floor. When he got into the paint, he made really mature decisions. Defensively, he had to guard Booth and did a phenomenal job on him. Sacar was absolutely huge.”
Villanova clamped down in a big way on Sam and Joey Hauser, limiting the brothers to four points, all scored by Sam in the early part of the second half. The Hausers combined were averaging just over 26 points per game entering the contest. “It was a team effort (on the Hausers),” said Wright. “That was part of the reason Howard went off on us. We didn’t want to pay too much attention to Howard and let the other two guys go off.”
Booth and Paschall led the Wildcats with 19 and 17 points, respectively. Booth is quick off the dribble and spent considerable time in the paint area of the Marquette defense. Shooting just under 40 percent from distance coming into the game, the red-shirt junior made only one of seven shots from distance against Marquette. The 6-8 Paschall, who started his collegiate career at Fordham, has a wing’s game in a big’s body. He’s more comfortable facing than playing with his back to the basket. His range extends beyond the arc and he made 2 of 5 shots from distance against Marquette. He’s quick getting into his jump shot, has excellent lift on his shot and releases the ball at the top of his jump.
After missing out on the NCAA tournament last season, Marquette was awarded a three seed in the midseason tournament bracket released on Saturday by the NCAA. While Howard’s high-scoring ways have made Marquette a better team this year, most observers point to Marquette’s improved defense that is limiting opponents to nine fewer points per game this season than last as the main reason for the Golden Eagles’ current success. “They’ve improved (defensively) as a team,” said Wright. “Defense is as much team oriented as it is individuals playing defense. When you get older, you get better defensively and you get better connected.”
Marquette returns to action on February 12 when they travel to Chicago to take on DePaul. Villanova returns home to take on Providence on February 13.