As freshman point guard Edmond Sumner pushed the ball into the frontcourt under heavy duress from Providence’s Junior Lomomba, Chris Mack rapidly motioned his hands in the shape of a T, screaming at his point guard to call a timeout. By the time Sumner swung the ball over to a wide open and already cocked JP Macura, Mack let his hands drop in resignation of what was about to come.
The Musketeers were clinging to a three-point lead after a 7-0 Providence run, 68-65, with 1:08 on the game clock and 24 on the shot clock when Mack was hollering for a timeout. After Macura let his dangerously bold 3-pointer fly, they were up six, and had the game all but won.
Also of note: Macura is shooting just 30.9 percent from three on the year, and was 2-for-10 over the last four games prior to nailing that shot.
“JP, that’s a little bit of what he has in him,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said after the win on the FS1 broadcast. “Big moments… we have a lot of guys like that.”
By “a lot of guys like that,” Mack meant he has some players with extraordinary confidence, willing to take those big shots in do or die situations regardless of the circumstance. And that confidence inside the Xavier locker room is a huge reason the Musketeers have collected big wins on the biggest stages so far this season, including Tuesday night, 75-68, at the Dunkin Donuts Center.
Macura’s shot combined with the Musketeers pulling off an impressive win is another memorable moment from a great game in a season that’s piling up with such successes.
The Musketeers started stacking the notable victories early in the year when they passed their first big test on the road in Ann Arbor against a healthy, ranked Michigan team, 86-70. They followed it up by going to Orlando and ripping off three straight convincing wins over top 100 teams at the Advocare Invitational on the ESPN family of networks, including a huge cherry on top when they waxed Dayton in the championship game, 90-61. Then, in a year when the Crosstown Shootout was supposed to be at its best, they controlled the game against their archrivals from start to finish, picking up the 65-55 home win over Cincinnati on Fox national affiliates. Since then, they’ve added a dominant home win over Big East rival Butler, which was over-hyped and over-ranked at the time, and now Tuesday night’s road win over No. 10 Providence and Player of the Year frontrunner Kris Dunn.
One thing all those games have in common - the world was (to different extents) watching. More importantly, basketball people were watching. And the Musketeers have shown up every time. This confident group loves big games and loves the spotlight.
It started with Myles Davis. The Musketeers added him as part of their 2012 recruiting class that included Semaj Christon, James Farr and Jalen Reynolds, but he was ineligible to compete his first year on campus and had to pay his own tuition initially. Coming up through the middle school and high school ranks, Davis was a stocky and undersized guard, but was well known across the country for his scoring outbursts and shooting range while playing for one of the top AAU programs in the country. He's worked hard to improve his body and become a better athlete in college, but at his size and with his physical tools, you don't become a high-major division I prospect without being supremely confident in your offensive abilities.
In addition to stockpiling a locker room full of positive influences and "good" guys in general, Mack and his staff multiplied the culture of confidence exponentially by adding Trevon Bluiett and JP Macura in the 2014 recruiting class.
Bluiett, like Davis, lacked physical tools coming up as a prospect, but he was well known nationally in basketball circles, and put on huge scoring displays while playing for one of the top AAU teams in the country.
Both of those guys would regularly play in games with and against higher ranked prospects headed to blue blood programs, and steal the show with a 20- or 30-point effort. It either never occurred to them that the increased amount of scouts and fans were in attendance to watch other prospects, or it fueled them. But either way, they were going to get theirs, and there was very little anyone could do to stop them.
It’s no coincidence that those two are the closers for this team. They combined for 21 of their 28 points in the second half on Tuesday night.
And plus, Macura is, well…Macura. His actions against Providence speak sufficiently.
If those three walked into any NBA practice right now and started a pickup game, they'd have zero doubt in their minds that they were going to win.
That type of confidence is contagious. It's hard to explain, but it's easily apparent after watching this team in workouts, practices, and less formal interactions. The high levels of confidence breeds competition and pride in the work that's being put in on the court. That’s shown on the defensive end as much as anything this year.
It also creates cockiness and a certain attitude that’s needed to survive in the locker room with your ego still in check. A quiet and unassuming but exceptionally talented freshman in Edmond Sumner has adopted that mindset, and thrived because of it. Maybe that was going to happen all along, but being on the court with a group of guys who think they’re really good has to at least help lead a young player in that direction.
And with James Farr’s massive boost in confidence this season, you have to wonder if some of his rapid development isn’t due in part to the culture in the locker room rubbing off on him.
This team will play reckless at times. It will take ill-advised heat checks, and won’t always have the greatest sense of urgency. But the Musketeers have proven that their extreme confidence pays off more often than not so far.
JP Macura gave us another example of that on Tuesday night.