Marquette Wire

Golden Eagles survive late Harvard comeback, prevail in opening NIT game

Sophomore+Markus+Howard+scored+22+points+against+Harvard.
Sophomore Markus Howard scored 22 points against Harvard.

Sophomore Markus Howard scored 22 points against Harvard.

Photo by John Steppe

Photo by John Steppe

Sophomore Markus Howard scored 22 points against Harvard.

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At the beginning of the fourth quarter, it appeared as though Marquette would walk away with an easy first round victory in the National Invitation Tournament. The Golden Eagles had a 46-32 lead, and leading scorer Markus Howard was on fire from deep.

Then Harvard’s offense came alive, scoring more points in the fourth quarter than previous two quarters combined. Marquette had a 19-point lead at one point in the quarter, but the Crimson cut Marquette’s once insurmountable lead to five with 11 seconds left on a 3-pointer from Rio Haskett.

“We were trying to see if we could create steals or quick shots,” Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker said. “We did a really good job of not fouling while we were pressuring and doubling … and we got hands on balls.”

During that stretch, Marquette turned the ball over four times, with three of them coming in the final minute. Twenty-one of Harvard’s 60 points came off turnovers.

“We turned it over like crazy,” Wojo said. “It’s hard to get your defense set when that happens.”

Fortunately for Marquette, senior Andrew Rowsey got himself fouled and hit two crucial free throws seconds later to secure the 67-60 win.

Typically, a 37.5 percent field goal shooting performance in the first half from the normally reliable Golden Eagles would be enough to spell trouble.

“(The Crimson) are really good defensively,” Wojo said. “They make it hard on you.”

But the Crimson shot 33.3 percent, leaving them with a 27-21 halftime deficit despite Marquette’s mediocre shooting.

“Our guys played really good defense for the majority of the game,” Wojo said. “Our defense, we’ve played as hard as we’ve played all year … Our pressure on the ball was terrific.”

Even when there was no defender around, the Crimson still struggled to convert, missing their first four free throws. Harvard finished 9-for-17 from the line. Meanwhile, Marquette made 18 of its 19 attempts from the charity stripe. It is the first time Marquette attempted more free throws than its opponent this season.

Marquette also broke its season-long struggle with transition offense, finishing the night with 17 points off fast breaks, including two highlight-reel dunks from Sacar Anim 51 seconds apart from each other in the third quarter.

“We just wanted to pressure the ball,” Anim said. “We know those guys are really good shooters and we want to force them to drive.”

Howard paced Marquette’s offense with 22 points on 5-for-11 shooting, including several smart decisions on the break.

“I had to step up a little bit,” Howard said. “Trying to stay aggressive is the biggest thing.”

That aggressiveness resulted in three Harvard turnovers in the first two minutes.

“Those few minutes early there in the second half was a big difference,” Amaker said. “They caused us to do it, and then there were some where we were pretty silly with the ball … That was the difference right there.”

Harvard remained within a couple of possessions for most of the first half, but Marquette started the second half on a 19-7 run to significantly lessen the possibility of an upset. Howard and redshirt sophomore Sacar Anim combined to score more in the third quarter than the entire Crimson squad.

The Crimson’s 60 points was the fewest Marquette has allowed in a game since the Golden Eagles’ Jan. 15 win over DePaul, in which the Demons scored 52 points.

“We just have to embrace (the win over Harvard),” sophomore forward Sam Hauser said. “Any win in March is a good win.”

Marquette will play Oregon Sunday at 3:30 p.m. CST at the Al McGuire Center for the second round of the NIT. It will be Marquette’s first matchup against the Ducks since its 16-15 win over Oregon in 1928.

A Marquette victory would result in a matchup against either Notre Dame or Penn State. This was Marquette’s first NIT win since beating Boise State, 66-53, in 2004 and first postseason win since the 2013 Elite Eight run.

“We don’t have anybody in the locker room that’s won in postseason,” Wojo said. “If you think that’s just going to happen with the snap of your fingers, that’s not the way that works. It’s a process.”

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About the Contributor
John Steppe, Executive Sports Editor

John Steppe is the executive sports editor for the Marquette Wire. He is a junior majoring in journalism and double-minoring in digital media and Spanish. He primarily covers men’s basketball, women’s soccer and basketball recruiting. You can follow his coverage on Twitter @JSteppe1.

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