Bruno Guimaraes stole the headlines with a stunning goal on his full debut, while Chris Wood also got off the mark for United at the eighth attempt.
But Howe has singled out Willock, believing he “epitomised” the team’s dogged display on the South Coast.
The former Arsenal man put in a relentless showing in midfield, capped off by a stunning late block deep into injury time.
‘Joe Willock was immense’
“It wasn’t a brilliant performance from us but it was a wholehearted, effort, commitment and a lot of hard work,” Howe admitted.
“It was epitomised by Joe Willock’s performance really, I thought he was immense physically. That was highlighted by the tackle in the last few seconds of the game.
“He’s come all the way back (into the box). I think that’s the hallmark on this team during this run, the effort and commitment from the player has been second to none.”
‘Not at our best’
The Magpies fell behind on 25 minutes after Stuart Armstrong’s opener but Wood levelled seven minutes later.
Guimaraes then netted the winner shortly after half-time with a quite remarkable backheel volley.
Howe added: “It’s a really tough place to come, especially when you’re a goal down and not playing at your best.
“I thought the players really did give everything physically. They really dug in.
“There were some really good displays in amongst a team performance that won’t rank as our best but a brilliant way to come from behind and win.”