Howard stands among elite crop of guards in BIG EAST

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Howard stands among elite crop of guards in BIG EAST

Photo by Tom Hillmeyer

Photo by Tom Hillmeyer

Photo by Tom Hillmeyer

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Markus Howard has a new nickname: 50.

“We call him 50 because it’s a possibility any night,” sophomore center Theo John said. “If he’s not giving you 50, then he’s giving you something else.”

The junior guard leads the BIG EAST with 25.8 points per game, picked up BIG EAST Player of the Week honors and is on the midseason watch list for the Wooden Award, which recognizes the best college basketball player in the country.

“It’s a great honor, but all that I’m worried about is helping my team get wins,” Howard said. “At the end of the day, that’s all that matters to me. … I want to be remembered for being a winning player.”

The star guard on Marquette men’s basketball has scored a career-high 105 points in the last three games, which included a record-breaking 53-point performance at Creighton University Jan. 9. It set both a BIG EAST scoring record and program record.

“Markus is a special player. He’s a guy that has the ability to have magical moments in the game,” head coach Steve Wojciechowski said. “I’m past the point of being surprised by that because he’s done it over and over again.”

Howard’s scoring has left BIG EAST coaches befuddled. Creighton head coach Greg McDermott consulted coaches who played against Howard in the nonconference schedule, but it didn’t help much.

“The theme (talking to other coaches) was if he has one of those nights where he’s making circus shots — good luck,” McDermott said.

Howard has taken advantage of more post depth to increasingly score off screens.

“He has a tremendous motor,” Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard said. “He’s never standing still, so they’re going to bring him off triple screens. They’re going bring him off fade screens. They’re going to bring him off down screens.”

Willard also noted his improvement at driving to the right side of the court.

“What’s made him unbelievably tough to defend is he’s really starting to shoot the ball going to his right much (more) than he did last year,” Willard said. “In years past, you could kind of shade him to his right a little bit.”

St. John’s has been one of the few teams to extinguish Howard’s red-hot shooting, holding him to eight points on 2-for-15 shooting Jan. 1. It was his worst single-game shooting percentage in almost two years. St. John’s head coach Chris Mullin largely chalked it up to “a lot of luck.”

“We had a nice game plan. It doesn’t always work against a kid like that,” Mullin said. “If he gets hot, he’ll hit shots, even when you play good defense. … He’s an incredible scorer.”

It helped when the Red Storm had 6-foot-5 redshirt sophomore Justin Simon guard the 5-foot-11 Howard.

The Musketeers tried a similar technique, putting 6-foot-7 sophomore forward Naji Marshall on Howard.

“(Marshall) did a pretty good job,” Xavier head coach Travis Steele said. “(We) tried using his size and length. … (Howard) is going to make a couple tough ones. It’s what he does. He’s an elite-level player.”

Howard’s hot scoring has been part of a trend of high-caliber play from guards in the BIG EAST.

Howard, Seton Hall guard Myles Powell and St. John’s guard Shamorie Ponds are the only players in the conference to average more than 20 points per game.

“The BIG EAST has always been known for great guards. I think these three really keep the great tradition of BIG EAST guards (going),” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “Our conference has arguably the best guards in the country.”

Marquette game planned heavily against Powell for Saturday, but he still scored 21 points.

“(Powell) is one of the most dynamic and well-rounded players in the country,” Howard said.

Like Howard, Powell operates similarly on offense, using screens to get space and hit shots. Powell has also distributed the ball to his teammates, directing Seton Hall’s offense.

“He wants all his teammates to do well,” Willard said. “When you have an unselfish player on the court and off the court, it just makes him that much more fun to coach, and it’s a big reason why he’s so successful.”

That was one of Wojciechowski’s biggest observations when preparing for the Pirates last week.

“When teams crowd (Powell), he’s done a great job of making good decisions and finding guys and making his teammates better,” Wojciechowski said. “There’s really not a part of the game that he’s not excelling in. That’s why he’s one of the top guards in the United States.”

However, St. John’s junior guard Ponds has thrived with a much different game. Willard referred to him as the second-best player in college basketball earlier this year.

“Shamorie is a guy that scores a lot with extended dribbles, and the ball is in his hands a lot,” Wojciechowski said.

Meanwhile, John won’t be dwelling on Howard’s next 50-plus point performance anytime soon.

“I’ll be able to do that one day when we’re old and can’t move anymore,” John said. “But if he miss(es), it’s my offensive rebound. And if he’s making them, I have to get back on defense.”

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