Saturday, March 29, 2003; the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, Minneapolis: Dwyane Wade records a triple-double with 29 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in an 83-69 Marquette dismantling of top-ranked Kentucky. The win came in an NCAA Regional Championship game, sending Marquette to its first Final Four since it won a title for retiring Al McGuire in 1977. It also completed a nearly 15-year rebuilding project for Marquette Basketball, in which the program went from shambolic under Bob Dukiet to a national power again with Wade and Tom Crean.
Given the historic consequences of Wade’s huge day, it’s difficult to say Markus Howard’s 52-points last night surpassed Wade in terms of special individual performances in the 101-year history of Marquette hoops. Wade’s game came on a Saturday afternoon, as daylight crept into prime time, to close out the venerable college basketball month of March. CBS showed the game to the world, while broadcast giants Verne Lundquist and Bill Raftery provided the soundtrack. While the Metrodome was rightfully maligned as a cold and uninspiring, it was home to some of the greatest sports moments of its time.
On the flip side, Howard’s game was on a Wednesday in early January. Many fans probably didn’t even get home in time to see much of the first half due to a 5:30 p.m. CST tip — no matter, as Howard, stunningly in retrospect, only had 10 points after the first 20 minutes, and Marquette trailed by one at the break. Those who did try to tune in may have struggled to find the CBS Sports Network on their TV. Online streamers and skinny-bundlers were largely out of luck. In terms of the call, John Sadak and Steve Lappas have miles to go before they can approach Lundquist & Raftery’s legend. And the site? Named for Dunkin’ Donuts, the most unique thing about it is, for TV viewers, the lighting seems odd.
Nonetheless, in terms of showing the world how special of a player Wade was and Howard is, the two games have a lot in common — namely, no one on the planet could seem to stop either man on what are the most memorable nights of their respective college basketball careers thus far. For Wade, the weight of the moment, Marquette’s history and Kentucky’s talent could not slow him down. The Wildcats featured 2003 Southeastern Conference Player of the Year Keith Bogans, albeit slowed by a sprained ankle against Marquette, eventual longtime pro Chuck Hayes and Gerald Fitch.
Howard’s circumstances, while less historic, were also not easily surmounted. The entirety of his Marquette team, himself included, played that uninspired first half. A feisty, tall Providence squad, along with questionable officiating, created trouble for Marquette and eventually caused three of Howard’s teammates to foul out. More notable, though, was Howard’s internal conflict: A recent fall-off in scoring dating back well before last night’s road trip. After five-straight games of 23-plus points, including setting the single-game school record for three-pointers against Chicago State Nov. 29 and a viral moment after a dagger of a trifecta against Wisconsin Dec. 9, Howard’s point totals of 10 against American and 13 versus Xavier and Georgetown were well below both his average and potential.
Howard’s slow going continued against the Friars until the second half, when he scored 32 points on 7-of-10 shooting in those 20 minutes alone. While he did require overtime to both set the school and equal the BIG EAST record for points in a game, it’s not like everyone in the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations didn’t know he was getting the ball in overtime, where he still hit 4-of-5 shots and 2-of-3 threes to score 10 points in the extra period.
As a result, this won’t be the only online article heaping praise upon Howard today. Not only did he score more points than any player in Marquette’s history, he scored nearly 20 percent more, obliterating the previous 44-point single-game mark by eight. He also scored over half (55 percent) of Marquette’s points on a night when they deposited 92, outscored an entire team (Rutgers only posted 51 against a No. 13 Purdue team that both beat the Scarlet Knights by 31 and dominated Marquette earlier this year) and, oh by the way, helped Marquette overcome a six-point deficit with 1:17 remaining to both send the game to overtime and eventually pull out a win. All six of the comeback points were Howard’s: Three outside the arc, two on a surprising drive to the hoop and one on the free throw he hit after drawing a foul on the drive to tie the game. The free throw was one of seven he took and made on the night and one of 45 he’s received this season — almost as amazing as his 52-point night is the fact Howard hasn’t missed a single one of those free throws yet. It’s hard to fathom anyone else being the national player of the week in any form of media. It might be the best performance in all of college basketball this season.
Let’s also not forget the win itself. Road wins in the BIG EAST over schools not named DePaul are like gold when it comes to the end of the season, conference tournament seeding and looks from the NCAA selection committee. It’s not Villanova or Xavier, but it’s solid and was by no means easy.
The biggest commonality between Wade’s triple-double and Howard’s 52, though, is that if anyone needs a game to point to in order to prove these guys were special players with outlier-type talent for Marquette, these stand alone.
We all know what Wade became: A three-time NBA champion, gold medalist, Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year and, eventually, a hall of famer. Meanwhile, oddly enough, an interesting analysis of Howard’s potential draft prospects by Anonymous Eagle last month came back with a reasonable debate whether or not there’s even a market for him in the NBA. Last night may have changed things, but other than the sheer volume of shots, scoring and poise in the clutch, we didn’t necessarily see a new side of Howard’s game.
Still — only a gifted talent like Howard can have such an amazing performance. If there’s not a place for that in the NBA, there must be someplace in the world. With a scoreboard-busting evening, Howard announced his presence as one of the game’s brightest young stars. Even if they couldn’t tune in CBS Sports Network, or are too young to remember Wade’s day in Minneapolis, fans of basketball across the country now know just how special Howard is, and Marquette fans have yet another reason to feel lucky to see such greatness in blue and gold.
FORGET IT: Figuring last night’s game would be a fairly run-of-the-mill BIG EAST tilt, I did have a blog mostly prepared before the game even started. That went out the window sometime in the second half, and honestly, I don’t even want the Splinters to attempt to add anything to what we saw last night. It was Howard’s night, and it will be Howard’s week until you reset the score to 0-0 for Marquette and No. 3 Villanova in Philadelphia on Saturday. While I’m thinking the fireworks should die down at some point, there seems to be some magic surrounding this Marquette team. I have a feeling a few tickets might have sold for Tuesday’s return home against Seton Hall after tonight’s contest.
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