Milwaukee, WI – Playing before an energized home crowd of just under 15,000 fans, Marquette jumped out to an 11-0 lead, saw Georgetown cut the lead to five at halftime before pulling away behind the play of freshman point guard Markus Howard and senior wing Jujuan Johnson to post a 76-66 victory in the Big East opener for both schools on Wednesday night.
“Obviously, both those kids (Howard and Johnson) were fantastic,” said Marquette Coach Steve Wojciechowski. “For Markus as a 17-year old in his first big East game to come out like he did, there were no nerves. When JJ plays at the level he’s capable of playing on at both ends of the floor, we’re a completely different team.”
Howard, who led Marquette with 23 points, and Johnson, who chipped in 20, combined to score all of Marquette’s first 11 points as the Golden Eagles jumped out to their early lead.
Howard’s game starts with deadly shooting from behind the three-point arc. Coming into the game, the native of Chandler, Arizona and graduate of Findlay Prep had connected on half of his 42 attempts from distance, good enough to tie for fourth among Big East three-point percentage shooting leaders. Howard shoots off the bounce, off the catch and needs just a sliver of space to release his shot. He opened the scoring on Wednesday night by connecting on a three-point shot after his defender was slow to negotiate a down screen and was late getting to him on the catch. Howard finished the night draining five of six three-point attempts.
Howard played consistently from tip to buzzer. He scored 12 of his 23 points in the first half and came up big when Georgetown threatened to cut into the Marquette lead in the second half. With the Marquette lead reduced to eight at 72-64 with three minutes left in the game, Howard converted a lay-up and followed up a Georgetown basket with two free throws to extend the Golden Eagles lead to an insurmountable 76-66 with just over a minute left in the game.
Asked if Howard projected as a cornerstone player for Marquette, Georgetown Coach John Thompson III chuckled and said, “That’s obvious, isn’t it? Howard’s a tough kid who knows how to play and he puts the ball in the basket.”
Johnson represents the last holdover player from the Buzz Williams era at Marquette and came to Marquette as a heralded recruit out of Memphis, Tennessee. He struggled to find his footing his first two years in Milwaukee, but established himself as a team leader in the second half of last season, and his strong play has carried over into this season.
Johnson is a stats stuffer. He entered the game tied for first in the Big East in steals (2.2), 11th in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.4) 13th in assists (3.0), 15th in field goal percentage (.516) and 19th in scoring (13.3). He scores at all three levels and found big-time success taking the ball to the rim against the Hoyas. He brought the Bradley Center crowd to its feet with three dunks. In the first half, he beat his defender off the dribble in half-court offense and when the seas parted and his path to the rim opened, Johnson continued on to throw down a powerful, one-handed dunk. He finished above the rim twice more in the second half, one time leaking out to play ahead of the Georgetown defense and another time after stealing a front court pass and beating the Georgetown defense to the rim.
Johnson is a rare player who impacts the game on both ends of the court. Just as some players hunt shots, Johnson hunts steals as his four steals on Wednesday night and his league-leading average attest. He’s equally adept at jumping passing lanes as he is stripping the ball from the player he’s guarding. “Jujuan Johnson is a very good basketball player,” said Thompson. “On the defensive end, when you get careless, he goes for steals like he did in the second half.”
“When JJ plays at the level he’s capable of playing on both ends of the floor, we’re a completely different team,” added Wojciechowski. “You guys (media) were there. He brings something to the table that we don’t have when he brings the focus and concentration on both ends that he did today”.
Marquette entered the game second in the Big East to Creighton with an 85.9 point per game average. But in allowing 71.1 point per game, the Golden Eagles sat seventh in the league. The low point of Marquette’s defensive struggles came when the Golden Eagles allowed Wisconsin to erupt for 58 second-half points in overcoming a five-point Marquette halftime lead to beat Marquette 93-84 on December 10.
Although failing to reach its scoring average against Georgetown, Marquette tightened its defensive effort on Wednesday night. After allowing Georgetown to shoot 47 percent in the first half, including a scorching 54 percent from behind the three-point arc, the Golden Eagles limited the Hoyas to 41 and 30 percent figures from the field and behind the arc, respectively, in the second half.
“In the second half, when scoring became a little more difficult for us, it didn’t affect our defense and that’s something that has happened at different time this season,” said Wojciechowski. “I didn’t feel like that happened tonight and that shows some growth and maturity and I’m proud of that.”
Georgetown tied the score one time at 26-26, but never led in the game. The Marquette victory overshadowed the tremendous effort of Rodney Pryor, the Georgetown 6-5 graduate transfer who was at Robert Morris for four years before joining the Hoyas this fall.
Pryor, who attended high school in Evanston, Illinois, about 60 miles from Milwaukee, showed the Bradley Center crowd that his league leading scoring average of 20.5 was no fluke. A powerfully build wing, Pryor is a left-handed shooter with a game similar to former Milwaukee Bucks star Michael Redd. Pryor scored from distance and in the midrange with a collection of pull-up and stepback jump shots. He finished the night 9-of-18 from the field and f4-of-9 from behind the arc. Especially impressive was Pryor’s ability to make contested shots as many of his makes came with Marquette defenders draped over him.
“We have to stay together,” said Pryor. “We have issues to fix and we can fix them.”
Pryor’s 23 points led Georgetown. Second on the Hoyas scoring list were center Jessie Govan and forward Marcus Derrickson. Govan, a 6-10 sophomore, started his scoring with a running hook shot in the paint and later dropped in a three-point shot. Derrickson, a 6-7 sophomore, helped rallied Georgetown from its first-half deficit by knocking down two shots from distance, one from each corner.
“We have to have a lot more poise,” said Thompson. “In this league, teams will make runs. We have to limit other team’s runs. I’m still confident in this group. We are going to regroup and bounce back.”
Georgetown closes out 2016 when it hosts Xavier on December 31. Marquette returns to action on January 1 with an away game at Seton Hall.
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.
Any international players interested in coming to the USA to play in college, prep school or high school can contact us here. We are looking for interns and sales associates. If you’re interested contact us and forward your resume.