Milwaukee, WI – The Marquette game program features a different Marquette player for each home game. It took until Marquette’s 13th home game of the season against Seton Hall on Saturday afternoon before sophomore Theo John found his way onto the cover of the program, but the timing could not have been better as John posted a double-double, mixed in three blocked shots, altered numerous other shots and put a bow on his performance by making three-of-four free throw attempts in the final two minutes of the game to help the 21st ranked Golden Eagles defeat the Pirates 70-66.
“It was another big-time college basketball game,” said Marquette Coach Steve Wojciechowski. “It may not have been as artistic as the last game (a 106-104 Marquette overtime victory over Creighton), but it was beautiful all the same. It was an old-fashioned fist fight.”
Doing much of the hand-to-hand combat for Marquette was John, a 6-9 big from Minneapolis who scored 10 points and collected a career-high 11 rebounds. John has made huge strides in his game from his freshman year. He sets screens, scores on the block and shoots free throws at a higher level than he did in his freshman season all the while fouling less to give Wojciechowski the opportunity to play him extended minutes. “Theo, for him to have a double-double was huge,” said Wojciechowski. “He (John) cleans up a lot of stuff when we make mistakes,” added Marquette wing Sam Hauser. “Obviously, he can block shots, but he also changes shots when he isn’t blocking them.”
Wojciechowski put a lot on John’s plate in asking him to hedge on high ball screens, retreat to his man rolling to the rim and then establish rebounding position on the defensive backboard. “A lot of Seton Hall’s actions designed to free up (Myles) Powell involve their five man,” said Wojciechowski. “Your center has got to be up there guarding or else it’s an open three. After you tell him to guard Powell (above the arc), you then tell him to go get the rebound. It’s asking a lot.”
Coming off the Creighton game where he played 43 of a possible 45 minutes and scored a career-high and Big East record 53 points three days earlier, Marquette point guard Markus Howard summoned the energy to score a game-high 26 points. Howard connected on three-of- six shots from distance and made all of his five free throw attempts in scoring 18 first half points to lead the Golden Eagles to a 40-30 lead at intermission. But Seton Hall as a team and junior guard Quincy McKnight, who specifically had the assignment of guarding Howard, made Howard work hard for his scoring opportunities. The 5-11 Howard seemed to wear down as the game went along. He made only two of nine shots, including none of his three attempts from distance, and committed all five of his turnovers in the second half.
Seton Hall came out in the second half with a heightened sense of urgency and cut into the Marquette lead. Powell’s lay-up at the ten-minute mark reduced the Marquette lead to one and when McKnight kissed a bank shot high off the glass on Seton Hall’s next possession, the Pirates had recaptured the lead for the first time since midway through the first half.
Powell made a catch-and-shoot jump shot from above the arc at the top of the circle to give the Pirates a 63-62 lead with three minutes left in the game. John collected one of his six offensive rebounds on Marquette’s next possession and drew a foul on a put-back shot. He made both free throws to put Marquette back on top 64-63, a lead the Golden Eagles would not relinquish.
Another John free throw increased the Marquette lead to 68-65 with seven seconds left in the game. Rather than run the risk of a three-point shot tying the game, Wojciechowski instructed Howard to foul McKnight dribbling near the half court stripe. With Seton Hall in the double bonus, McKnight went to the free throw line for two shots with three seconds left on the clock. He connected on the first to cut Marquette’s lead to 68-66. He purposely missed the second shot hoping the rebound would find its way to a Seton Hall player. But McKnight’s shot nicked the left side of the rim and fell directly into the sure hands of Sam Hauser. Seton Hall fouled Hauser and his two free throws sealed the victory for Marquette. “I didn’t want Powell to tie the game (with a triple),” said Wojciechowski. “I think you have to go by feel on that. I don’t think there should be a hard-and-fast rule.”
Three Marquette players scored in double figures to support Howard in the scoring column. Junior wing Sacar Anim led that group with 14 points on five-of-ten shooting including two-of-three from behind the arc. Marquette came out of a time out with one minute in the game leading 64-63 to run a play for Anim to drive the ball to the basket from the right wing. He got a step on his defender off the bounce to his left, but when his path to the rim was blocked in the pain, Anim picked up his dribble, pivoted and made a short shovel pass to a cutting Joey Hauser who converted a left-handed lay-up to extend Marquette’s lead to three and give it some breathing room.
Anim goes into every Marquette game knowing he will be assigned to guard the opponent’s most prolific perimeter scorer. That player was Powell on Saturday, and while Powell’s 21 points did lead Seton Hall in scoring, it was also under the 22.8 ppg average he carried with him into the game. “Sacar played a terrific all-around game,” said Wojciechowski. “Powell is so good no one is going to stop him. But with the exception of one possession late when our five man wasn’t there to help and it wasn’t Sacar’s responsibility, he did a real good job of making life hard on him.”
Seton Hall was hoping to burnish a resume that included victories over ranked teams in Kentucky and St. John’s. Just as Marquette got three double-digit scoring games in support of Howard, three Seton Hall players scored in double digits to back up Powell. McKnight, a transfer from Sacred Heart, scored his six baskets and 13 points in midrange and the paint. Six-ten big Sandro Mamukelashvili knocked down three-of-four shots from distance in scoring 13 points and 6-8 Mike Nzei found space in the paint to connect on six-of-seven shots in scoring 12 points.
Sam Hauser went over the 1,000 point plateau in the game to become the 50th player in program history to score more than 1,000 points. A junior, Hauser would have to put up some Howard-type scoring games in the next year and a half to get within range of the 2,000 point mark. “I’m looking forward to his 2,000th point–that’s a joke,” said Wojciechowski. “But I’d be OK with it,” he was quick to add.
Both teams return to play on January 15. Marquette, 14-3 and 3-1 in the Big East, travels to Georgetown on that day and Seton Hall, which saw its record fall to 12-5 and 3-2 in conference, plays at Providence.