Milwaukee, WI – Marquette Coach Steve Wojciechowski was one of the great dirty-work players when he played at Duke in the 1990s, but in his first four seasons at the helm of the Marquette program, the former NCAA defensive player of the year has fashioned teams that focus more on the offensive than defensive end of the court. With the DePaul Blue Demons visiting the Bradley Center in Milwaukee on Monday night and the Marquette offense in a rare shooting funk, the Golden Eagles put on their hard hats, flipped the switch and relied on their defense to grind out a 70-52 victory.
“It was one of our better defensive games of the season,” said Wojciechowski. “Coming off a defensive performance (in a 94-83 loss at Butler on January 12) that was not good, this one was good. I thought everyone played outstanding defense. And I thought the defense of Sacar (Anim) and Jamal (Cain) on (Max) Strus was real good.”
In jumping out to a 41-21 halftime lead, Marquette equaled its lowest points allowed total for any one half on the season. Denying Strus, DePaul’s leading scorer at over 18 points per game, touches and contesting shots out of their half court defense, the Golden Eagles limited the Blue Demons to 18 percent first-half shooting including a 0-for-4 mark from behind the three-point arc. Marquette held the three starting guards in the DePaul line-up of Strus, Eli Cain and Brandon Cyrus to a combined 1-for-15 shooting performance in the first half.
Marquette was able to put up 41 first half points with two of its three sharpshooting perimeter players mostly misfiring from inside and outside the arc. Markus Howard and Andrew Rowsey, the starting Marquette back court and first and second, respectively, in the Big East individual scoring race with averages north of 20 ppg, went a combined 1-for-7 from the field and 1-for-6 from distance in the first 20 minutes.
If something seemed out of wack with the Marquette offense to the 12,000-plus fans who braved a snowy Wisconsin night to attend the game, the Marquette coach offered an exclamation. “Markus was under the weather today and he’s been very ill for the last three days,” said Wojciechowski. “He showed a lot of toughness and courage playing tonight. If he wasn’t the great player you normally see, there was a good reason for it.” In addition to illness, Howard was limited in the first half with foul issues. He finished with a season-low seven points, the first time all season he failed to reach double digits in scoring. Howard, who scored 52 points in a Marquette win at Providence on January 3, was still able to elicit “ahs” from the Marquette fans when he froze a DePaul defender with a midrange pass fake and continued unimpeded to the basket with his dribble. But despite finding no resistance at the basket, Howard overlayed a lay-up with his left hand as the ball fell harmlessly off the rim and into the hands of a DePaul rebounder.
Rowsey was his usual spirited self spearheading the Golden Eagles attack. Coming into the game shooting a Big East sixth-best 44 percent from behind the arc, Rowsey misfired on all four of his first half three-point attempts and finished with a 2-for-10 mark from distance for the game. But the fifth-year senior and transfer from North Carolina-Asheville touched the game in other areas as he usually does. His nine assists were a team and game high and his five steals were three more than any other player.
For maybe the first time all season, Wojciechowski went out of his way to praise Rowsey’s defensive effort. “Andrew had one of his better overall games and I thought he really battled Cain given his (Cain’s) height advantage,” he said. Rowsey, giving up seven inches to the taller Cain, helped limited Cain to five points on 2-of-10 shooting. Cain entered the game averaging over 11 ppg.
Rowsey plays with a craftiness that entices defenders to foul. He stepped to the free throw line five times on Monday night and knocked down all five attempts to increase his free throw percentage to 91 good for second in the Big East. By connecting on his first free throw of the night, Rowsey scored his 2,000th collegiate point combining his totals from NC-Asheville and Marquette.
Rowsey trails only his teammate Howard on the Big East free throw shooting percentage chart. Howard made both his free throws attempts against DePaul to continue a remarkable streak of success from the free throw line. The sophomore from Chandler, Arizona has shot 57 free throws this season, and made all 57. Going back to the 2016-17 season when he connected on his last nine free throw tries, Howard is riding a streak of 66 consecutive made free throws. He sits two free throws behind tying the school mark of 68 set by Steve Novak.
With Howard and Rowsey scoring below their averages, Sam Hauser built on what is becoming a stellar season for the sophomore from Stevens Point, Wisconsin with another stat-stuffing performance. Hauser, a 6-8 combination forward more comfortable playing facing the basket, scored a game-high 19 points and did it in an efficient way connecting on half of his 12 field goal attempts including 5-of-10 shots from distance. Hauser shoots mostly off the catch and over the years has honed the skill of losing his man and creating passing angles for his teammates behind the arc. Hauser is not afraid to let fire at any time in the shot clock and the three-point shots he makes in transition, while obviously counting for the same three points as any other shot from behind the arc, seem to have more of a back-breaking effect on opponents.
“Sam’s a great player,” said Wojciechowski. “He’s one of the best players in the conference and one of the better players in the country. We have two explosive guards, but from a consistency standpoint, it’s hard to find a player any more consistent than Sam.” In addition to his 19 points, Hauser pulled down seven rebounds, blocked two shots and collected two steals.
Wojciechowski’s rotation runs nine deep. He plays three centers in starter Matt Heldt, freshman Theo John and sophomore Harry Froling. Froling, a 6-11 native of Australia who transferred to Marquette from SMU, energized the Golden Eagles in the first half with his scoring and rebounding. Fitting the mold of the modern-day big as comfortable playing facing as with his back to the basket, Froling made 3-of-4 shots on the night and scored six points. His most impressive scoring move came attacking the basket to his right from the left wing and scoring at the rim with a right-handed finger roll. His nine rebounds in only 19 minutes were a team and career high. “I thought this was Harry’s best game,” said Wojciechowski. “His rebounding in the first half gave us a shot in the arm and allowed us to gain separation.”
“I expect to do that (rebound),” said Froling. “I like to rebound the ball. It’s one of the things I can control. I like doing the little things like rebounding and playing defense and I’m starting to get into the feel of our offense. My teammates have confidence in me and my shots are going to start falling.” Froling transferred to Marquette mid-way through last season and became eligible on December 18 of 2017. This was his ninth game in a Marquette uniform.
Even though he misfired on two uncontested shots at the rim, one with each hand, Jamal Cain gave Marquette quality minutes off the bench. An athletic, quick-jumping 6-7 freshman wing out of Detroit with above average leaping ability, Cain not only helped hold Strus to eight points under his average, he also scored eight points on three baskets, one from each level. His most impressive move to score came dribbling to his left from the right wing, pulling up at the right elbow, elevating high and knocking down a midrange jumper. Carrying only 190 pounds on a lean frame, Cain rebounds over his head with timing, jumping ability and length. His seven rebounds tied Hauser for second among the Golden Eagles. Wojciechowski called it “Jamal’s best game in a couple of weeks.”
The 6-9 John made the most of his 17 minutes to score a career-high 11 points, pull down three rebounds and block one shot. A defensive-minded big with shot-blocking instincts, John scores rolling out of screens, with low post moves over his left shoulder and on put-back shots. John, Heldt and Froling combined to limit DePaul big Marin Maric to six points, nine below his average.
DePaul has struggled to finish in the top half of the Big East since the conference was re-figured in 2013 and the loss to Marquette dropped the Blue Demons’ record to 9-9 and 1-5 in conference. But like Howard’s long streak of made free throws, DePaul boasts a streak of its own. By splashing a three-point shot with 2:29 left in the game, Strus extended the DePaul streak of making at least one shot from distance to 757 straight games. The last time DePaul played without making a three-point shot was a 1993 game against Alabama-Birmingham when both schools played in Conference USA.
After going 3-2 in a 13-day stretch, Marquette gets a chance to catch its breath with a nine-day break before its next game at Xavier on January 24th. Wojciechowski said the break in schedule comes at a good time for his team. “The Big East schedule is a grind and it’s hard to practice for long stretches because you have to be aware of fatigue,” he said. “But I look at it as a positive and a chance to get better. When we had a bye week last year, we got better.”
DePaul returns home to host Butler on January 20th.
This article was written by Tom Osowski, a correspondent and scout for NetScouts Basketball. You can follow us on Facebook, or on twitter. We are looking for those interested in our basketball scout certification program. For information contact us and forward your resume.