Forty. Fifty-one. Six.
A locker combination? Winning lottery numbers? No, these were Markus Howard’s point totals in Marquette’s three games in the Orlando Invitational.
Marquette won the first two games over Davidson and USC before losing the third to a Maryland team now ranked third in the country. If you took the time to click back and forth between the Packers and MU Sunday, you’re probably painfully aware of those numbers, as ESPN wasn’t afraid to point them out. There wasn’t a lot to analyze, though. Even though Brendan Bailey tried to keep the team afloat with a career-high 27 points, without Howard hitting, Marquette was pretty much lost.
Looking at Howard’s game-by-game performances this season basically tells you how Marquette played in those games. He scored 38 against Loyola Maryland, a dominant win. Yes, he had 18 against both Purdue and Wisconsin, two games that had very different results, but the Boilermakers saw him hit on 6-of-12 shots, while the Badgers flipped the digits on his field goal attempts as he made 6-of-21, a volume shooting performance that didn’t produce a volume of points. The shot total went down to six against Robert Morris, as Howard’s cold second-half against UW continued through that game and into the Davidson contest. Marquette struggled to beat lowly RMU, then Steph Curry’s alma mater hung around until Howard got hot late to finish with those 40. USC was an easy win, as it should be when anyone scores 50-plus points at the college level, before Maryland turned the tables.
That Marquette’s fates have followed Howard’s shouldn’t be too terribly stunning. He’s an AP Preseason All-American; no one else on the team earned any preseason conference recognition. But it’s not ideal. Furthermore, Howard’s a shooter, and it should be unsurprising he can run hot and cold. If you’re depending on him to be the one, and only, offensive force to carry you, it’s inevitable he’s going to be a little off at some point and you’ll pay the price accordingly. It’s already happened.
The question is how you get opponents to respect secondary options — and just who those options will be. Obviously, it would have been either or both Hausers, Sam or Joey, if they hadn’t decided to transfer. But their absence can’t excuse the Golden Eagles to simply shrug their shoulders and accept losses when Howard can’t score, especially if teams decide to focus on stopping Howard, perhaps even with junk defenses like a box and one.
Before Marquette’s follow-up to the Invitational against Jacksonville, Howard bumped his head, entered concussion protocol and missed the game.
It forced those secondary options to step up. Sacar Anim did so better than anyone else, scoring 19 points to lead Marquette to a 75-56 win. However, he scored 13 of those 19 in a first half where Marquette went into the locker room with a 17-point lead. He only hit on 2-of-7 shots in the second half. Theo John led Marquette in the final 20 minutes with nine points, but went 5-of-10 from the free-throw line. Jayce Johnson maybe had the best second half of anyone on the team, scoring eight points. But Marquette actually got outscored in the second half, 33-29. If MU is only going to be able to play Jacksonville even without Howard, it’s going to be a long season against BIG EAST-caliber competition.
Furthermore, this was at least the third time Howard has missed playing time due to concussion concerns. He also sat a game as a freshman and spent two weeks off the floor as a sophomore in high school. He’s only 20, which seems pretty young to have already had three concussions. While Howard appeared to be fine before the game and was apparently around the team at practice in the run-up to Wednesday night, you have to be careful with someone who has his track record. Expecting Howard to do it all on offense, particularly if you’re expecting him to take the ball to the hoop and get banged around in order to get teams to give him some space outside, is both putting Howard the person at some risk and something you won’t get to do if he has to spend more time out with any further issues, which becomes more likely when a player already has a concussion history.
We won’t dwell on that too much because, much like in football, you can’t play hesitantly to guard against injury, as that just makes you play hesitantly, period, and not well. Howard has do his thing and do it fearlessly. But he’ll be more able to do his thing — score — if teams have reason to believe they need to respect someone else, nay anyone, on offense. To draw another parallel with football, even if you’re not great at running the football, you still have to try, if only to get teams to respect the run.
Whether it be Anim, John, Greg Elliott, Jamal Cain or someone else, Howard needs his teammates to at least be seen as threats to score. Howard may be a generational talent when it comes to piling up points at the college level, but the ultimate goal is winning games, not just one guy scoring a lot of points. To win, Marquette needs more than Howard. It has to be a team effort offensively. Everyone has to take ownership and be willing to show they can score, too.
WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? This is only the second Courtside blog we’ve put out this season, even though Marquette’s been playing about a month now. To say I was distracted was an understatement. My November included being the PA announcer and in-stadium music coordinator for all 12 games of the WIAA Boys Soccer State Championships Nov. 7-9 and all seven matches of the NCAA Division III Women’s Volleyball Championship’s Chicago Regional Nov. 13-15. Then I was iHeart’s play-by-play voice for both the Division 4 and Division 2 WIAA Football State Championships, Nov. 19 and 20 in Madison. Each of those events involved a lot of prep, and also stood as possibly the biggest event in the young lives of all participants, so focusing solely on them was important. After that, I needed a breather, and Thanksgiving weekend provided both that rest and the chance for me to get back in rhythm.
A man can only do so much, especially when being an integral part of events that are the culmination of years of effort for hundreds of people. I hope that’s understandable. But we’re back now.
TRAVEL PLANS: Don’t let the absence make you think we’re not taking Courtside seriously, though. We’re hoping to resume the tradition of covering this year’s Butler game at Hinkle Fieldhouse after missing out on last year’s Indianapolis trip. And, as of right now, things are lining up for Courtside to be courtside at Pauley Pavilion when Marquette heads to UCLA next year. Courtside may be largely a two-man effort (Jimmie Kaska deserves a lot of credit for the non-blog content). But it’s a worthwhile one we pursue with gusto.
FIRST THINGS FIRST: As of the writing of Courtside, we don’t know if Marquette will have Howard back for a road game against UWM alum Bruce Weber and Kansas State tomorrow night. Either way, they’ll play in Manhattan, Kan. at 8 p.m. MU will then return home to face Grambling State, Tuesday night at 7.