Hooray For Jere

The kid from Split seemed certain to do just that -- split -- after a wasted sophomore season at Notre Dame. But here was Jere Macura, still around at the Joyce Center, and scoring a career-high 16 points Monday night in a 78-48 victory over Cornell. IrishEyes Managing Editor Alan Tieuli reports on the 2-0 hoopsters.

Copyright by Global Electronic Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes™

November 19, 2001

Macura Makes His Bid
For Irish Playing Time

By Alan Tieuli
The IrishEyes.Com NewsService

For the charter members of The Jere Macura Fan Club, this was your night.

You remember Macura.  He was the Croatian swingman brought in by Matt Doherty – sight unseen – in the summer of 1999.  He proved to be a capable swingman, averaging nearly five points in 15 minutes a play, a solid seventh player in Doherty’s eight-man rotation.  He showed a quick release and enough smooth moves from the wing to draw a respectable cache of fans in the Joyce Center and on the Internet.

But then Mike Brey replaced Doherty and took one look at Macura’s defensive habits – or lack thereof.    Macura was a DNP-Coach’s Decision in eight games last season, unproductive and unseen in the others, and most wags thought he was a 50-50 proposition to bolt the Irish program this year, particularly when countryman Ivan Kartelo transferred to Purdue.

But Brey assured Macura after Troy Murphy left for the NBA that a spot was open in the frontcourt.  The Irish needed a big athletic body up front that could shoot, rebound and yes, play defense. “Hang in there with us,” said Brey. “Now you can prove to us what type of player you are.”

Tonight against Cornell, it was Macura at his best.  He scored 11 of the Irish points in a game-deciding 15-0 first-half run and finished with a career-high 16 points, keying host Notre Dame to an easy, 78-48 victory over the 0-2 Big Red.

"I'm definitely more confident this year," said Macura. "I would say that is the big difference in my game."

The 2-0 Irish also received another outstanding performance from Big East Rookie of the Week Chris Thomas.   The freshman point guard followed up his triple-double versus New Hampshire with a dead-eye 22-point, six-rebound, six assist effort.   The Indianapolis Pike product hit six of seven three-point shots and – get this – didn’t turn the ball over once in 35 minutes.

“I don’t care who the player is, I don’t care who the opponent is, to not the turn the ball over once in 35 minutes, that’s pretty impressive,” said Brey, a former college point guard at George Washington and Northwestern State.

After nailing 26 three-point shots for Doherty, Macura made just one-of-14 last year.  So it was nice to see him rain a three on Cornell in the first-half.  He complemented that with a pair of power dunks.  He even attempted to take a couple of charges.  This appears to be a much improved player – certainly more confident -- and the Irish do need the frontcourt help.

“I’m really proud of Jere,” said Brey. “It was interesting to see him gain confidence against New Hampshire, then gain more confidence in practice the last two days.  Tonight he was clearly in the offensive rhythm.  When he spotted up for threes, it was right in the flow.”

Perhaps more important than the points, Macura had a team-high eight rebounds as the Irish out-rebounded the Big Red, 41-35.  The single biggest question in pre-season was “Who will rebound” for this team. If Macura can be a capable banger in the Big East, the Irish will be that much better.

The Croat will lose his starting position to Ryan Humphrey (two-game NCAA-imposed suspension) when the team lands in Hawaii and opens play Friday at the Hawaii-Pacific Tournament.  But the Split-product – a member of four national championship teams in his homeland – will get plenty of minutes in what could be a meaningful eight or nine-player rotation.

"Jere can be a fragile kid with his confidence and I'm aware of that," said Brey. "He's a good player and needs to be reminded of it.  Kids need to play.  It was hard for him to be a part of the mix last year with Humphrey and Harold Swanagan playing so well.  We need him this year.  He can step out and take that three, he does a heckuva job offensive rebounding.  We got to get him comfortable and keep him confident, because he is going to be important to us."

Cornell, a 17-point loser to Canisius in its opener, held an 11-9 lead eight minutes in before the Irish got into the flow of the game. Swanagan – playing free and easy despite “slippage” in his right knee cap – had a steal and dunk to fuel a 9-0 run that put the Irish into the lead for good at 18-11.

From 18-14, the hosts put the game away with the Macura-led 15-0 burst.   He hit five consecutive shots on seven ND possessions, turning the contest into a 33-14 rout.  It was 39-21 at the half and Cornell never got any closer.

"What's helping Jere," said Brey, "is the support of the captains. They know for us to be good, he needs to be good.  When Ryan Humphrey gets off the bench goes up to Jere and says 'Way to go', that means a lot more than me saying it."

Matt Carroll scored 13 points and had five rebounds in 31 minutes.  David Graves struggled with his shot – just three-for-11 – but had four rebounds, four assists and three steals.

With Swanagan on the sidelines at the start to rest his knee, freshman Jordan Cornette earned his first start.  He had trouble getting into the offensive flow, hitting just one of six shots, but he did contribute six rebounds in 29 minutes.

“I think it’s huge that Cornette and Macura could play big minutes before we go out to play three games in three days in extreme heat at Hawaii,” said Brey. “It’s nothing but a positive for us.”


THE NOTEBOOK:  Safe travels to Hawaii for my close colleagues on the Notre Dame beat – particularly Tom Noie of the South Bend Tribune and the radio team of Jack Lorri and Jack Nolan.   It’s not easy being away from your family at any time, especially during Thanksgiving, and especially for these three high-character guys…..Wouldn’t it have made sense to have a 6 p.m. tip-off for this game when the team had a 5 a.m. departure for O’Hare and its flight to Hawaii?……. Hope you enjoyed having the students and band in the building these last two games.   The Irish play eight of their next nine on the road.  Notre Dame has not played eight road games in November/December since the 1966-67 season when Johnny Dee’s squad played nine of its first 12 on the road, going an unsightly 3-9.  ND recovered to go 14-14 that season.  It may not get any easier next year.  “It will be a year or two,” said Brey, “before (Athletic Director) Kevin White and I can work out philosophies into the scheduling.”…….Irony department. Jake Rohe, a 6-6 junior, started for Cornell last night.  He is friends with Ryan Humphrey and the Irish forward stayed with the Rohe family this summer in Los Angeles.  During that same visit, Humphrey partook in the Summer League game that made him ineligible for this contest and the New Hampshire opener……Notre Dame is now 39-4 all-time against Ivy League opposition and have not lost to an “Ancient Eight” opponent since Digger Phelps’ No. 2 ranked Irish were ripped at Princeton, 76-62, on January 3, 1977.  Phelps never scheduled the Tigers again……This is a very similar start to last season.  The Irish beat Sacred Heart and Loyola by a combined 87 points in the first two games.  This year, New Hampshire and Cornell fell by a cumulative 72.

(Alan Tieuli is the Managing Editor of IrishEyes.  He can be reached at aatandsonspr@aol.com)

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