by John Fanta
You knew when J.P. Macura was walking out onto the court through the tunnel before Saturday’s Top-20 showdown between Xavier and Seton Hall.
Throughout pregame shootaround, a packed Pirate student section – guided by a row of lobster-suited guys – rained down a chorus of boos on the Musketeers senior. Macura has been well-known as one of college basketball’s most controversial stars, often entertaining in being the defensive pest on the floor to an opponent or entertaining in the theatrics of a game. If he’s on your team, you love him. Those around the Xavier program call him “Dennis the Menace,” but they love him. Those not around Xavier? Well, there’s things said that may not be appropriate for this column.
On Saturday at The Rock, the boos and heckling of Macura were silenced for the first time. His 27 points, just two off his career high, powered the 11th-ranked Musketeers to their first win in five tries at the Prudential Center, a 73-64 triumph over #19 Seton Hall.
“It adds fire,” said Macura of the taunting. “I play better that way. I just try to block it out.”
Macura had the last word with Xavier up by five with less than two minutes to go. After a missed jumper, the senior rose up and flushed home a dagger dunk to extend the lead to 67-60 with 1:28 on the clock.
“He’s a warrior, the most competitive guy I’ve been around in anything,” said Xavier head coach Chris Mack. “He stuck out with some hustle and effort plays that are needed in a game like this.”
In a battle of the two biggest pursuers of Villanova for the BIG EAST, that Musketeer hustle was instrumental for Xavier to collect stops down the stretch in the win. Mack’s group held SHU to just 13 points in the final 10 minutes while outscoring The Hall 43-29 in the second stanza.
The closing stretch all goes back to Macura in Kevin Willard’s mind.
“He was phenomenal,” said the Seton Hall head coach. “He did things in the final four minutes that completely swung the game.”
Xavier has won three in a row after two consecutive road losses to Providence and #1 Villanova.
“Our play at Providence and Villanova, it gave us a blueprint that if we want our ass kicked, we’re going to keep playing without effort,” said Mack. “You got to be able to turn the page in this league and have a next-play mentality. Our team as a whole grew up a lot today.”
Ironically, that growing up happened behind Macura, but it’s a formula that has worked its way to success for a Musketeers program that went to the Elite Eight a year ago, and has its eyes set on the Final Four.