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Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Howard injury allows Elliott to take prominent role

Photo by Helen Dudley
Greg Elliott will have to take on more of a role in the offense with Markus Howard injured.

With about five minutes left in the first half Saturday night against Creighton, all eyes turned to sophomore guard and leading scorer Markus Howard, who took a hard foul and could not get up under his own power.

On the other side of the court at the CenturyLink Center, freshman Greg Elliott had the challenge of filling in for the conference’s leading scorer.

“Coach (Steve Wojciechowski) has given me a lot of responsibility,” Elliott said. “They’re giving me confidence knowing that I’m going to be having to make more plays being in a bigger role.”

Elliott exhibited that confidence Saturday after checking in for Howard. In just 17 minutes on the floor, the freshman from Pontiac, Michigan, scored 10 points and five rebounds on 4-for-5 shooting.

Even with Elliott’s strong performance, Wojo realizes he can only expect so much out of a freshman with two career starts and a nagging hand injury.

“It’s not (Elliott’s) job to replace Markus (Howard). It’s Greg’s job to be the best Greg he can be,” Wojo said. “And that’s a lot to throw on a freshman’s shoulders, especially one that is playing with a hand-and-a-half.”

Wojo has consistently put Elliott in to fill a void on one of the worst defenses in the BIG EAST. The 6-foot-3 guard has matched up against many of the conference’s best point guards.

“Defense, that’s always been an emphasis of mine,” Elliott said. “Getting confidence with defense and getting stops makes the offense easier for the rest of the guys.”

That defensive game against Creighton. His length helped Marquette execute a two-three zone to near perfection; the Bluejays went from scoring 1.514 points per possession in the first half to 0.943 in the second half.

While Marquette practices zone defense routinely, it often produces results that are no better than the man-to-man defense. The second half against Creighton was by far Marquette’s experience with the zone.

“The key to the zone is how hard you play in it,” Wojo said. “It’s the guys playing in the zone; it’s not necessarily the zone.”

Marquette can be expected to alter its approach against an athletic St. John’s team, which plays much more in transition than Creighton does.

“Some of (the success) is a function of Creighton is just a really good halfcourt offensive basketball team and they create a lot of mismatches,” Wojo said. “You don’t have to defend as many ball screens, it keeps our bigs by the basket.”

At the same time, Elliott’s confidence with the ball has increased dramatically.

“I’m cool with doing whatever my team needs me to do,” Elliott said. “If they need to score more, I’ll score more. And if I need to pass more, I’ll pass more. It doesn’t matter. I just want to win.”

Elliott has now scored 10-plus points in three of Marquette’s last five games despite averaging 17.2 minutes per game during that stretch.

“(Elliott) is one of our better drivers and so he can create shots for other people,” Wojo said. “He can manufacture buckets through his offensive rebounding and getting into creases, so he has to play to his strengths.”

Despite Elliott’s increased offensive confidence, he will have a challenge on defense guarding St. John’s point guard Shamorie Ponds, who leads the BIG EAST with 21.6 points per game.

“It starts on defense knowing that Ponds had 44 on us last time,” Elliott said. “It starts with stopping him. Once we start stopping him, our offense will come, and we’ll be able to get a win.”

With Howard’s long-term injury prognosis still unknown, Elliott will have plenty of opportunities against players like Ponds.

“I don’t know if (Howard) will be doubtful for a long time or a short period of time,” Wojo said. “It all depends on how he responds to treatment, but he did suffer a significant injury.”

In the meantime, Howard, who averaged 22 minutes per game in his freshman season, has guided this year’s freshman guard through this opportunity.

“(Howard)’s just telling me to go out there and play my game,” Elliott said. “There’s no added pressure on me. He says to go out there and do what I do any other time, and it’ll be enough for us to win.”

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