Markus Howard’s 38 points paces No. 10 Marquette in win over No. 14 Villanova

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Markus Howard scored 38 points and Sacar Anim added 18 as No. 10 Marquette knocked off No. 14 Villanova, 66-65, in Milwaukee to keep the Big East title race interesting over the final month of the season.

Entering the day, Villanova held a two-game lead on first place in the Big East standings over the Golden Eagles, and a win would have locked them into a fifth Big East regular season title in the last six seasons. Early on, it looked like Marquette was going to cruise to an easy victory, as they jumped out to a 47-32 lead midway through the second half.

Villanova responded by hitting six straight threes during a 23-6 run, taking a 55-53 lead.

Phil Booth led the way for Villanova with 19 points while Eric Paschall added 17.

Here are three things we can take away from this result:

1. MARKUS HOWARD IS A BAD MAN, BUT PHIL BOOTH MIGHT BE THE BEST PRO IN THIS GAME

Markus Howard is sensational.

Anyone that reads this space should know by now how I feel about him. He had 38 points on 13-for-24 shooting, hitting 5-for-11 from three, despite the fact that both of the Hauser brothers played about as poorly has they are capable of playing.

That said, the turnover that Howard committed on the final possession of the game drives home a point that I’ve made about Howard before: He struggles when dealing with length and athleticism, and that has me wondering just what his ceiling is as an NBA player. I’m also an Eric Paschall guy, but seeing him get roasted by Sacar Anim — who was terrific, by the way — is concerning for his pro prospects as well.

Which is why I think that Phil Booth has a very real chance to be the best NBA player on either of these two teams.

There isn’t much that he can’t do on a basketball court. He’s a knockdown shooter. He’s capable of creating his own shot off the dribble — the behind-the-back step-back that he hit in the deep corner with 2:19 left was an NBA move. He can pass. He can defend on the perimeter. With just over a minute left, Steve Wojciechowski called a timeout and drew up a play designed to get Sam Hauser isolated on Booth, who was giving up five inches, and Booth held his own and forced a missed shot.

Hell, I think the only bad decision that he made in this game was when he opted not to shoot here:

Howard is probably going to end up being the Big East Player of the Year, and he’ll deserve it when he gets it.

But Booth has 10-year NBA rotation player written all over him.

2. THEO JOHN’S FOUL ISSUES MAY COST MARQUETTE COME MARCH

One of the biggest reasons that Marquette has improved on the defensive end of the floor this season is that Theo John has really grown into the role of eraser at the rim. He’s averaging 4.4 blocks per 40 minutes, and while his rebounding numbers aren’t amazing, he does a good enough job at ending defensive possessions.

The problem with John is that he just can’t stay out of foul trouble, and he is particularly susceptible to picking up fouls when he is forced to defend on the perimeter. He played just 16 minutes against Villanova before fouling out, which makes sense given the fact that the Wildcats opted to use a frontline that consisted of Eric Paschall, Jermaine Samuels and Saddiq Bey.

At some point during the NCAA tournament, Marquette is going to run into a team that can space the floor and force John into situations where he has to move his feet on the perimeter. Whether or not he is able to do that and stay out of foul trouble may be what determines whether or not the Golden Eagles get out of the first weekend.

3. JERMAINE SAMUELS AND SACAR ANIM ARE WAKING UP AT THE RIGHT TIME

It may be a little unfair to say that Anim is just now waking up, but I do think that he has been playing his best basketball over the course of the last couple of weeks. He had 18 points on 8-for-10 shooting against Villanova, which came after he scored 14 points at Butler and finished with 11 points in the loss to St. John’s. He’s also made 6-for-9 from three over the last four games. Out Marquette’s perimeter weapons, he is the one that opposing coaches are going to want to force to make shots — that’s what Villanova did — and when he does, Marquette can do things like beat Villanova.

Samuels, on the other hand, is actually waking up. He’s seen him minutes take a major jump in the last month, and while he’s never going to be looked at as much of an offensive threat right now, he is producing on the glass and defensively. What happened on Saturday was that Marquette helped off of Samuels — he had taken just a single three in his last five games — and dared him to beat them. He made a pair of threes during Villanova’s 23-6 run to get back into the game.

The athleticism and toughness Samuels brings on the defensive end of the floor is something that Villanova has to have right now, and anything that he can provide from a scoring perspective is found money. If he gets to a point where he’s consistently a 7-9 point-per-game guy that makes threes when defenses don’t guard him, he’ll be a difference-maker for Jay Wright just like he was on Saturday.