Teammates embrace Howard’s 30-point performances


Photo by Jordan Johnson

As Sacar Anim took questions following Marquette’s BIG EAST Tournament win over St. John’s March 14, the striking majority of the questions were not about his 13-point performance or his efficient 5-for-10 shooting.

They were about the guy a couple paces to the right of him in the New York Knicks’ locker room at Madison Square Garden: Markus Howard.

Anim said he doesn’t mind getting the questions about Howard.

“That’s my guy. That’s my guy, so anything for him,” Anim said

It became a trend for the Golden Eagles this season. Howard had 10 30-plus point performances in 2018-’19 and scored at least 20 points in 23 of MU’s 34 games.

“I’ve seen it so many times,” Anim said. “I’m almost getting used to it. … This is Markus Howard every day.”

Teammates can sense when he’s having one of those 30-point nights. Junior forward Sam Hauser described it as a certain look in Howard’s eye that gives it away. As long as it results in wins, his teammates don’t mind him taking a lot of the shots.

“When he’s got that look, … you kind of just have to let him do his thing,” Sam Hauser said. “He’s capable of doing that stuff on a daily basis.”

“Maybe a shot he’ll make, an extra pass (would have a teammate) open, but then he starts to get it going,” freshman forward Joey Hauser said. “Then you’re like, ‘Just keep going, man. Do your thing. … If you’re making your shots, we’re 100 percent alright with it.”

Part of the reason for the teammates’ openness to Howard taking over games might be Howard’s teammate-driven mentality.

“If I’m in the zone, I want to try to create for my teammates,” Howard said. “When I get kind of into a rhythm, I want to be sure that I’m not just handling the ball most of the time. I want to be sure that my teammates are feeling like they need to attack as well.”

Sam Hauser said Howard’s scoring helped everyone else on the court. Sam Hauser has more space on the perimeter, Anim has more room to drive and the rest of the team gets catch-and-shoot opportunities.

“He creates a lot when he gets going,” Sam Hauser said. “All the attention gets on him, and he knows when to kick and when to pass.”

Creighton head coach Greg McDermott described Howard’s deep 3-pointers as “circus shots” earlier in the season, since he was hitting low-percentage shots at such a high rate.

One of those circus shots came against Butler Jan. 30. Howard used his well-documented stepback to get about 6 feet of space from Butler defender Nate Fowler and sank a 3-pointer to give MU a 20-point lead in a move straight out of a video game. It left Butler head coach LaVall Jordan in awe.

“Which (stepback three)?” Jordan joked on the following BIG EAST conference call. “He’s had a couple of those.”

“(The shot over Fowler) was impressive,” Jordan said. “I think equally or more impressive were some of the shots he hit over our guards. They were draped all over him.”

Some coaches have lost sleep preparing for Howard.

“Watching tape on him, I was having nightmares,” Southern University head coach Sean Woods said in December. “A lot of coaches in the country are going to have nightmares about him.”

“He’s got the ability to make difficult shots. … He hit floaters from all over the court, and most of those were guarded,” Jordan said. “You’re assuming he’s not going to continue to make those, but against us, he did.”

Jordan said Howard has been a talented scorer in past seasons, but this year, he has expanded his skill set.

“The difference I’ve seen is he’s imposing his will on games,” Jordan said. “That’s different than just scoring points.”

That was on display Jan. 30. It was a four-point game, but then Howard scored 15 points in a six-minute period to build a comfortable lead against the Bulldogs.

Howard described it as following his instinct. 

“When you’re feeling like that, you’re definitely going off of your instincts,” Howard said. “Whatever the game presents itself.”

The story of Howard’s prolific scoring doesn’t necessarily have a happy ending, though. Toward the end of the season, Howard struggled to set up his teammates in the same way he did earlier in the year.

Howard recorded 33 turnovers compared to only 25 assists in the last seven games of the season. He also shot 24 percent from the field in his last two games. In the process, MU lost six of its last seven games to go from No. 10 in the Associated Press Poll to losing in the first round of March Madness.

Murray State picked up on the trend, pressuring Howard into either a tough shot or a sloppy pass en route to a 19-point blowout in the NCAA Tournament.

Shaq Buchanan was one of the players tasked with stopping Howard in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on March 24 in Hartford, Connecticut.

“Make him work for every bucket,” Buchanan said. “(Other teams) let him get too comfortable.”

Buchanan said Marquette’s reliance on Howard to create all of its offense helped in stopping the 5-foot-11 guard.

Buchanan’s strategy worked incredibly well, allowing a team with fewer household names to limit the Golden Eagles to 32-percent shooting and force one of the country’s top point guards to work for his shots.

In a much smaller locker room than at Madison Square Garden, Buchanan had something to brag about with national reporters lurking.

“Twenty-six points on 27 shot attempts, I did my job,” Buchanan said.