Markus Howard said “it won’t mean much” to him if he leads the nation in scoring this year. The senior guard is almost as famous for deflecting praise and sharing credit as he is for setting records and scoring by the bushel. “I just want to be known as a winner,” Howard said Saturday.
So it’s a safe bet that, out of the 42 points he posted against Georgetown, he was happiest about the three that put Marquette out of the Hoyas’ reach with just over a minute to play.
Coming out of a timeout with the game tied at 76, Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski drew up what he later called “a loop to a gate special,” a play that sent the ball around to Howard in the right corner as two teammates “closed the doors” of an elevator screen. Howard saw Jagan Mosely flying in, so he pulled the ball back as the defender went by, dribbled once and knocked down the three that was vital to Marquette’s 84-80 win.
“I could’ve shot the first shot when I caught it, but I saw the defender coming at me so I decided to use my shot-fake and I had an even more open shot,” Howard said. “It was a great call by Coach. He drew up a great one for us and we really executed well.”
Allowing an opposing player to go for 42 could be embarrassing, but this is what Howard does. He leads the nation in not only points per game (28.2) but also usage rate (40.9%), and he’s high on the list in free throw attempts and 3-point attempts. It was the seventh 40-point game of Howard’s Marquette career; according to ESPN Stats and Info, that’s more than double any other player’s career total in Big East history.
Howard is known best for his lights-out 3-point shooting, and the dangerous speed at which he can shoot off the catch. That wasn’t the only part of his game on display at Capital One Arena. Though Howard scored 28 in the second half, he only made two threes. Instead, he drove in for a few buckets and at other times showed off a high-arcing, mid-range floater that seemingly couldn’t miss.
He even got to the line like a pro. On two occasions, Howard leaned into his jumpers and drew just enough of a bump that referees called them fouls. All 12 of his free throw attempts came in the second half.
“Markus is a guy that, obviously, his 3-pointers get the most attention, and deservedly so,” Wojciechowski said. “But he can score in multiple ways. He can put the ball on the floor, he can attack space and he’s got a very good floater game. He’s become much more efficient in the paint with his finishing and his floaters. He was able to take what the defense gave him.”
Georgetown coach Patrick Ewing said his bigs weren’t arriving in time to provide the help defense on pick-and-rolls.
“(Howard) was either driving away or splitting or driving around or we just were not there,” Ewing said. “They’re a good team, he’s a good player, and we can’t give him everything. We can’t give him the drive-around, the drive-away, the open threes, being able to snake the ball in there and make plays.”
The Hoyas didn’t try to face-guard Howard, which so far this season has proven to be the only way to slow him down. When Marquette met Maryland in the final of the Orlando Invitational, Darryl Morsell used a six-inch height advantage to smother the 5-foot-11 Howard and hold him to six points and 1-for-12 shooting.
That’s not to say the Hoyas didn’t give their best effort. Graduate transfer Terrell Allen drew the primary defensive assignment and coaxed him into missing a few shots in transition. Mosely took him on at points throughout the game. Howard just found ways to beat them.
“I think they were showing a lot on ball screens, so you know, just trying to read off that,” Howard said. “(At times) I could have settled for a three but I wanted to make sure I was getting to the teeth of the defense. I’m not really known for shooting mid-range jump shots a lot, so teams don’t really expect me to shoot that. When I was coming off the screens I was able to read those and able to get those shots off.”
A visiting reporter later asked Wojciechowski point-blank if Howard was the best player in the nation.
“You know what? I know I’m biased but I think he is,” the coach replied.
He left it at that. Howard’s game could speak for itself, which is just how the senior wants it.