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Stayin’ Alive: Marquette 83, Xavier 61

A boss shooting night from everyone’s favorite 17 year old freshman guided the Golden Eagles to the W on National Marquette Day.

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at Marquette
Markus Howard did the damn thing on Saturday night.
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Freshman Markus Howard drained a record-tying nine three-pointers on Saturday night, powering Marquette to an 83-61 victory over Xavier for National Marquette Day on Saturday night. MU advances their season record to 7-7 in Big East play and 16-10 overall. The victory snaps a two game skid for the Golden Eagles and keeps their NCAA tournament at-large bid hopes alive.

Howard finished the night with a game high 34 points while connecting on nine of his 12 three-point attempts. That ties the team record set by Mark Anglavar in February of 1990. Howard’s second made triple of the night was actually a record breaking one: It gave him 58 threes for the season, one more than the program record for a freshman of 56, set by Travis Diener back in 2002. Howard’s all the way up to 65 made threes now, and he’s still got quite a bit of basketball left to be played this season to expand on that record.

The game looked like it might be getting out of control early. The Golden Eagles went on a 19-0 run to take a 21-2 lead with 14:12 to play in the first half, and it was a pretty squirrelly opening six minutes. Marquette racked up four of those 19 points on technical foul free throws by Andrew Rowsey as the referees first snagged RaShid Gaston for complaining about a moving screen foul, and then tagged XU head coach Chris Mack for complaining about Marquette not getting called for a moving screen. Those freebies came all in a row, and Rowsey followed it up with a three-pointer for your standard issue seven point possession.

Of course, Xavier wasn’t going to stay in a 19 point deficit for the duration of the game, and Marquette wasn’t going to stay white hot, either. The Musketeers climbed back into the thick of things, trimming a 21 point Marquette lead with 5:16 to go down to just a mere 10 points with 23 seconds left in the half.

A dunk by Tyrique Jones opened up the scoring in the second half and pulled that lead back to just 10 points. That’s when Howard exploded. He went on a personal 11-4 run, answered only by baskets from Gaston, jumpstarting the Marquette offense and the Bradley Center as a whole while staking the Golden Eagles to a 17 point lead. That would essentially be all the offense Marquette needed on the night. The lead never dipped lower than 13 after that, and a bucket from Haanif Cheatham with 5:39 left pushed it up over 20 for good.

Here’s two “WAIT, WHAT” crazypants facts about the game. First, Matt Heldt and Luke Fischer both fouled out. Heldt went with 8:25 left in the game, while Fischer managed to make it to the 4:06 mark. Their combined 10 fouls in the game and subsequent departures with so much time remaining on the clock essentially had no effect on the game, which is totally bananas if you think about it. “Hey, Fischer and Heldt are gonna both foul out before the under-4 media time out, but Marquette’s going to win by 22.” If someone had told you that before the game, you would have had them committed to an asylum.

The other crazypants fact is maybe not so crazypants. Senior guard Jajuan Johnson did not play in the game, not one second. Even with both Fischer & Heldt fouling out, even with Katin Reinhardt and Duane Wilson lugging around four fouls each by the end, Johnson stayed seated for the duration. After the game, head coach Steve Wojciechowski called it “a coaching decision,” which could honestly have any number of interpretations.

Lost in the madness of Howard’s long range bombing is the performance that Matt Heldt assembled. Getting the start for just the second time in his Marquette career, the Neenah native assembled a six point, nine rebound performance, and he found time for a block and a steal in his 24 minutes. Oh, and Harry Froling dubbed him “Heldtasaurus Rex” after the game, so that’s totally a thing now.

How about some highlights, courtesy of CBS Sports Network and GoMarquette.com?

The long and short of it is that Marquette took care of business on Saturday night. They desperately needed a win, and they took advantage of a crippled Xavier team - Edmond Sumner gone for the year, Trevon Bluiett still not back from a sprained ankle - in order to get it. Thumbs up. The work continues on Tuesday night, however......

Up Next: ..... when St. John’s comes to town. Just like Marquette couldn’t afford to lose this home game, the same goes for the contest against the Red Storm. MU will be looking for revenge on the Johnnies after they rained on Marquette’s post-Villanova parade a few weeks ago. SJU hasn’t played since they lost to Butler back on Wednesday, so they’ll be nice and refreshed when they visit.