Constant boos, vicious chants and a raucous crowd is usually enough to get under the skin of a visiting player, but Xavier’s J.P. Macura is not the average opponent.
A hostile environment is exactly what fuels Macura’s fire and if any proof of that was necessary, look no further than his 27-point outburst against Seton Hall on Saturday afternoon.
With All-American forward Trevon Bluiett struggling to find his rhythm, Macura weathered the storm and carried the Musketeers to a 73-64 victory over Seton Hall, all while hearing a smattering of boos nearly every time he touched the ball and constant chants of “J.P. sucks” from the Seton Hall student section.
“The thing about J.P. is he’s not going to crawl in a shell when you boo him,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said. “I’ve seen a lot of crowds get on him, a lot of student sections and it bothers him this much.”
Macura is someone who opposing fans love to hate but would kill to have. He is a hustler, and while Macura will not go out and score 20-plus points on a nightly basis, he will do countless things that will help his team win but not show up in the box score.
“You have to give Macura credit,” Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said. “I thought J.P. did some things down the stretch in the last four minutes that swung the whole game. I thought Macura’s two offensive rebounds and tips outs were really the difference that got them over the hump.”
Willard’s praises of Macura were not lip service from a defeated head coach – they were legitimate praises of a player who changed the game. Whether it was diving on the floor for loose balls to force jump balls, to slamming home putback dunks or chasing around Seton Hall guard Myles Powell on the perimeter, Macura worked on the intangibles for his team.
“Macura wasn’t going to leave [Powell],” Willard said. “You can run [Powell] off ball screens all you want, but you’re not going to screen Macura. It’s just not happening.”
“We let J.P. get going and I feel like he’s the X-factor for that team,” Seton Hall forward Ismael Sanogo said. “He’s the X-factor for that team and once he gets going, they’re a good team.”
Sanogo’s remarks may even be an understatement, as the No. 11 Musketeers now sit at 18-3 on the season and have been on a tear since the conclusion of last year’s Big East Tournament, winning 21 of their last 24 games. While Bluiett gets most of the attention due to his dominance as a scorer, it is Macura who does the little things that get Xavier over the hump in tight games.
Macura essentially embodies a Xavier senior class that Mack said he wished he could have back for one more season. He also represents the style of play that has turned Xavier from a mid-major success story to a Big East powerhouse – hard-nosed, physical and in team’s faces at all times.
While Jan. 20 marked the first time Macura and company defeated a Seton Hall team at the Prudential Center, the Pirates have not seen the last of the scrappy guard. With a trip to Xavier in February looming on the schedule, at least one more meeting with Macura is in store. Add in the possibility that Seton Hall could see Xavier in the Big East Tournament and that is two more games against a player Willard probably wishes he never had to deal with again.
Love him or hate him, Macura can play. Unfortunately for Seton Hall’s booing fans, he is not going anywhere.
Tyler Calvaruso can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @tyler_calvaruso.