Howard scores 23 in BIG EAST debut as MU outlasts Georgetown

Head coach Steve Wojciechowski joked around with his freshman point guard Wednesday night, sitting alongside media to ask if Howard considers himself a “better dresser or better basketball player.”

Marquette’s third-year head coach could afford to have some fun, as his team started the BIG EAST slate with a 76-66 home win over Georgetown.

The Golden Eagles flew to an 11-0 lead in the first few minutes of their BIG EAST opener. In this opening stretch, the BIG EAST’s worst team in opposing field goal percentage held Georgetown to 0-for-5 shooting.

“We dug a hole for ourselves early,” Georgetown head coach John Thompson III said. “They have some guys that can make shots. We allowed them to get wide open shots.”

The Hoyas barked back from their early deficit with 3-pointers on five consecutive possessions, eliminating the Golden Eagles’ 14-point lead.

“Some of the shots they were hitting, especially (Rodney) Pryor’s shots, were not easy shots,” Wojciechowski said. “It wasn’t like they were getting open shots”

Marquette tamed the team’s high-octane offense and put up a 19-5 run to finish the half with a 42-35 lead.

Wojciechowski’s defense had mixed results in the first half, allowing Georgetown to shoot 47 percent from the field but owning an 8-4 advantage in the turnover battle.

“In my opinion, we play in the best conference in the country, so we have to bear down on defense,” Howard said. “It has to be a point of emphasis each and every game.”

After struggling for much of the nonconference schedule with starting second halves strong, Marquette opened the second frame on an 8-2 run and later forced five turnovers in a span lasting just over five minutes.

Marquette quickly became shorthanded as Duane Wilson could not return from a first half groin injury and Rowsey and Howard earned their fourth fouls by the under-eight media timeout. Rowsey later fouled out.

Thompson III befuddled the Golden Eagles late in the second half with a full-court press. The change resulted in a turnover, forced timeout and errant pass hitting Marquette’s own rim.

“We were just trying to generate some energy for ourselves,” Thompson said. “It’s hard to press them because they have so many ball handlers and so many guys that can shoot, but at that point, we had to just take a chance.”

“Overall, we did pretty good (against the press),” Wojciechowski said. “Our guys need to figure out when to break it to score and when you pull back out. … It’s the first time we’ve seen that and most of the time we had a freshman inbounding it and a freshman bringing it up, so it isn’t like they’ve been able to see that a whole lot.”

Marquette’s proficiency from long range was paced by redshirt junior Andrew Rowsey and freshman Markus Howard, combining to shoot a video game-like 8-for-10 from downtown.

As a result, Howard finished the game with a career-high 23 points.

“That boy’s elite,” Johnson said. “He comes in practice everyday like it’s nothing.”

“As a 17-year-old in his first BIG EAST game, to come out like he did, there were no nerves,” Wojciechowski said. “He was probably the guy that got us off to the start we got.”

Senior Jajuan Johnson also helped fill the void, scoring 20 points.

“When JJ plays at the level he’s capable of playing on both ends of the floor, we’re a completely different team,” Wojciechowski said. “He brings something to the table that we don’t have.”

“JJ is such a great player… he has the chance to do some great things,” Howard said. “He already has, but he has the chance to be even better.”

The Blue and Gold were outmatched on the boards against a significantly bigger Georgetown team. The Hoyas outrebounded MU, 19-12, in the opening frame, but Marquette closed the margin to 37-31 by the final buzzer.

Freshman Sam Hauser, who shot 50 percent from 3-point range entering Wednesday’s contest, was virtually nonexistent. The Stevens Point, Wisconsin, native finished the night with 1 for 6 shooting from the field.

Marquette moved up three spots in KenPom after the win to 35th in the nation. The team will look to continue their three-game win streak Sunday at Seton Hall.