LAHAINA, Hawaii (AP) — Markus Howard gathered the ball, gave a head fake, quickly moved his right foot forward to make the defender think he would drive to the basket. That one little jab step was enough to get the defender leaning and Howard stepped back for a 3-pointer that swished through.
After a rare poor-shooting half, the nation’s best 3-point shooter had found his rhythm.
Howard scored 18 of his 22 points in the second half, Andrew Rowsey added 20 and Marquette opened the Maui Invitational with a 94-83 victory over Virginia Commonwealth on Monday.
“I missed a couple shots and I can’t really even think about it. I have to move on to the next play,” Howard said. “The second half it’s like a start-over, hit your restart button, so I was looking at it that way.
Marquette (2-1) started slow, but got rolling behind Rowsey, who had 15 points in the first half. Howard, the nation’s top 3-point shooter as a freshman last season, struggled in the first half before catching fire. He made 4 of 9 from the arc in the second half and finished with seven assists, leading the Golden Eagles into the Maui semifinals against No. 6 Wichita State or California.
Sam Hauser added 20 points and Marquette hit 13 of 36 from the arc overall.
“I thought we took some really quick, ill-advised shots in the first half,” Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski said. “The second half, I thought we had much greater poise on the offensive end.”
VCU (2-2) caused some problems with its pressure defense — 17 Marquette turnovers — but had trouble slowing the Golden Eagles shooters, particularly after offensive rebounds.
Marquette had 15 offensive rebounds that led to 22 second-chance points.
Malik Crowfield led the Rams with 17 points.
“They were tough today, they did a great job of getting more opportunities that I think it really cost us,” VCU coach Mike Rhoades said. “Put ourselves in a tough position, giving really good shooters extra shots over and over again.”
Rhoades was an assistant under Shaka Smart on the 2011 Final Four team and took over this season when Will Wade left for LSU. New coach, but the Rams still play that always-in-your-face “Havoc” defense that drives teams crazy and into mistakes.
VCU opened the season with wins over Grambling State and North Florida before losing to Virginia on Friday.
The Golden Eagles are coming off their first NCAA Tournament appearance under Wojciechowski, but lost two senior starters and two key reserves from that team.
Marquette beat Mount Saint Mary’s in its opener, but lost by 15 to No. 19 Purdue last Tuesday.
Both teams were creating a bit of havoc in a first half filled with runs. VCU went on an early run, Marquette scored 12 straight points during a 20-5 spurt to go up eight and the Rams rallied back.
Marquette led 45-44 after a first half filled with 21 combined turnovers.
Howard, who hit 54 percent of his 3-pointers last season, missed all four of his attempts in the first half.
He kept firing, as good shooters do, and the shots that were missing before started dropping, helping the Golden Eagles build a 73-64 lead midway through the second half.
The Rams tried to claw their way back, but the Golden Eagles had an answer every time they got close.
“We have a lot of fight and we can score the ball, but we’ve got to guard,” Rhoades said.
Marquette took better care of the ball against VCU’s pressure in the second half and proved it can be a handful when its perimeter shooters are knocking down shots.
The Rams created some problems defensively, but allowed too many good perimeter looks against a strong outside-shooting team.
MARQUETTE IN MAUI
The Golden Eagles like it in Maui. The win on Tuesday improved them to 5-2 at the Maui Invitational. One of their losses: To Duke in the 2007 title game, when Wojciechowski was a Blue Devils assistant coach.
Isaac Vann had been a big contributor for VCU after transferring from Maine, averaging 18 points and 6.5 rebounds off the bench this season. The sophomore swingman didn’t have much of an impact against Marquette, finishing with seven points and no rebounds.
Marquette faces the winner between No. 6 Wichita State and California in the semifinals on Tuesday.
VCU gets the Wichita State-Cal loser on Tuesday.