Xavier freshman J.P. Macura will be the first one to admit that his defense needs work. Thursday evening he showed why, despite his deficiencies on the defensive end of the court, he’s already found a big role within head coach Chris Mack’s regular rotation as the Musketeers defeated San Diego 82-71 in the first round of the Wooden Legacy Tournament at Cal State Fullerton to move to 5-0 on the year.
Midway through the second half, Macura came off the bench and gave Xavier the run it needed to finally pull away from the hot-shooting and pesky Toreros. Note that the previous sentence doesn’t say Macura helped spark the run or provided some hot shooting during the run. He was the run. By himself.
After San Diego freshman Marcus Harris knocked down a jumper to cut the Musketeers’ lead down to 56-52 with 11:09 left in the game, Macura answered right back with a three. Junior wing Duda Sanadze returned the favor with a three at the other end for the Toreros, and that’s when Macura caught fire. He hit his second three on consecutive possessions to answer, then came up with a steal on the defensive end and used his handle and athleticism to convert through traffic in transition, and then buried a deep heat-check three to put Xavier up 67-55 with 9:24 to play.
The Musketeers never looked back.
Macura’s impact was limited mostly to that short stretch – he finished 4-of-4 from the field, including 3-of-3 from 3-point range, with 11 points, one steal and an assist – but he played a major role in Xavier winning the game.
“We have a lot of depth on this team,” Macura said. “If someone’s playing bad, someone’s going to step up. That’s the nice thing about this team. If everyone picks each other up and we know we can do that, we’re going to win a lot of games.”
Through the first five games Macura’s role has been a unique one, especially for a freshman. The staff has continued to show confidence in him and give him regular minutes off of the bench, despite other team’s attacking him at the defensive end, because of his ability to score points in a hurry. Macura’s extreme confidence has been apparent every time he sees the floor as he’s taken 32.5 percent of the team’s shots when he’s on the court (by far the most on the team) and also has the highest usage rate on the team. In other words, he hasn't been able to stop anybody on defense and he's shooting nearly every time he touches the ball, but it's working out well for the Musketeers right now.
Xavier’s lead reached its largest point at 17 just before the three-minute mark on a pair of free throws by Matt Stainbrook.
Stainbrook had a brilliant all-around game. The efficient big man scored 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting from the field (including a missed three), hauled in nine rebounds and dished out eight assists in 29 minutes. The Toreros had no answer for him. The only way they could stop him from scoring was by leaving an open shooter, whom Stainbrook found every time.
“Well, I was talking last night and saying that Xavier might be one of the five teams in the country that is playing the best right now,” San Diego coach Bill Grier said. “I know that they have played all their games at home, but I think offensively they are really clicking. They have a lot of pieces in every area. They have quickness on the perimeter, a really terrific young freshman in (Trevon) Bluiett, and on the interior they are just a load. (Tim) Stainbrook is just a handful. He’s so big and such a great passer for a big guy. He’s got unbelievable hands. I think we got it to four and they opened it up with back-to-back threes on their baseline action. We didn’t do a very good job taking away that, but that’s why they’re a good team. I think the biggest concern for us was just the glass and defensively they were really tough.”
At halftime, Xavier held a 39-31 lead, but the first 20 minutes were more tightly contested than that score suggests.
Xavier shot 55.6 percent from the field and executed pretty well offensively, but San Diego stayed in the game by hitting 5-of-11 threes and scoring nine points off of seven Xavier turnovers. The Musketeers were just 3-of-8 from beyond the arc.
In addition to Macura’s big stretch, Trevon Bluiett knocked down 2-of-3 from 3-point range to help the Musketeers go 7-of-12 from long distance as a team in the second half. Bluiett once again led Xavier in scoring with 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting with three rebounds.
Junior Remy Abell rounded out the Musketeers in double figures with 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting, including 2-of-3 from beyond the arc. He also had two rebounds, two assists and a steal with no turnovers.
Junior James Farr finished with double-digit rebounds for the second game. He had 5 points (2-7 FG, 1-3 3PT), 10 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, 2 steals and 3 turnovers.
Xavier had a big edge on the boards, 33-18, but the Musketeers’ 10 offensive boards only netted them nine second-chance points, which was only four more than San Diego had.
"Feels really good to get off the Thanksgiving schneid,” Coach Mack said. “Seems like we're always in the consolation bracket of these really well run events. It's nice to be on the winning side for once. I thought the difference in the game today was our bench. I thought our bench played extremely well. J.P. (Macura) had that little run in the second half that was the separator in the game today. Jalen Reynolds did a great job coming off the bench. I thought Matt (Stainbrook) and James (Farr) were two of the best bigs on the floor. Matt nearly gets a triple double and James gets a double-figure rebounds. We’ve got a long way to go. It's nice to be playing on the winning side of the bracket."
Sophomore Myles Davis was held out of action on Thursday due to a coach's decision, but according to Mack he'll be back in action on Friday.
"Myles Davis made a dumb decision off the floor, so I choose not to play him today," Mack said. "As far as him playing in the future, I think you'll see him in uniform tomorrow."
Xavier will take on UTEP, which defeated Princeton 62-56 earlier on Thursday, at 3:30 on Friday in the second round of the Wooden Legacy. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.