MILWAUKEE -- The University at Buffalo finally ran into a guard it could not lock up Friday night.
Marquette star Markus Howard ripped UB’s stellar perimeter defense to shreds in leading the 20th-ranked Golden Eagles to a 103-85 victory over the No. 14 Bulls.
Howard, a 5-foot-11 junior, scored 45 points, 40 of them in the second half, as Marquette broke open a close game over the final nine minutes.
Howard, who was averaging 23.2 points a game, is the preseason favorite for Big East player of the year. Perimeter defense is a big strength of the Bulls, but Howard made 9 of 13 3-point shots, many of them fade-aways from deep range.
“He scored 45 on Kansas State,” said UB coach Nate Oats, referring to a game on Dec. 1. “They’ve got the No. 2 defensive team in the country. I didn’t think he’d do it on us. I was wrong. He did.”
Thus, UB (11-1) fell from the undefeated ranks.
UB’s win at Syracuse on Tuesday, along with its November defeat of West Virginia, made Friday night a “gravy” game. It would have been nice to win, but it should not hurt the Bulls’ strong chances to be an NCAA Tournament team as long as UB plays as well as expected during the Mid-American Conference season. UB is the favorite to win the MAC for a fourth time in the past five years.
“I told them great job,” Oats said of his locker-room talk to his team. “I think there’s only six undefeated teams in the country at this point. … We’ve had a great run here at the beginning of the season. We didn’t look like the 14th-ranked team in the country today. But we played a tough team and Markus Howard went nuts. That was probably the best individual performance I’ve seen a kid put on.”
Oats took some of the blame for not slowing Howard’s hot streak. UB guards Davonta Jordan and Dontay Caruthers held him to five points in the first half, although he sat out 9 minutes with foul trouble.
“I screwed up on how we guarded Howard a little bit,” Oats said. “I should have started trapping him sooner, made him give it up, made somebody else beat us. I screwed some stuff in this game, too. That’s on me.”
However, UB also lost because Marquette was bigger and more physical inside. The Golden Eagles outrebounded UB, 48-34. Marquette had 10 blocks, six from 6-9 forward Theo John.
“The fact we got outrebounded by 14, that speaks to our toughness, our effort,” Oats said. “That’s why we got to 14th in the country, because we were more blue-collar, out-toughed teams. We outrebounded Syracuse by 13. That’s how we won at the dome.”
UB led in the first half, 19-10, and 22-15, but it couldn’t press its advantage with Howard in foul trouble. Marquette took a 39-38 lead into halftime.
“We built a 10-point lead,” Oats said. “I felt we could have built it higher. They actually hung in. I told our guys after the game, that’s when you gotta bury ’em, when you’ve got the best player on the bench and you’ve got ’em down 10. You can’t get outrebounded by 11 in the first half. You’ve got to make tougher plays.”
UB got 22 points from senior forward Jeremy Harris, 20 from Caruthers and 18 from senior guard CJ Massinburg.
The Bulls were able to use their quickness to get into the lane and get shots at the rim. But Marquette’s big defenders forced a lot of misses by UB in the paint.
“It’s a really good program, it’s a high-major program, with high-major athletes,” Oats said. “It showed. We’re giving up 6 inches at different positions.”