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J.P. Macura silences doubters in Round of 64 win

Macura played at a high level in Xavier’s first game in the NCAA Tournament.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Xavier vs Texas Southern Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

He wasn’t the first person to call out J.P. Macura’s name. But Brent Montgomery got the guard’s attention with the $100 bill he was flaunting from the stands.

Eighteen minutes before Xavier’s 102-83 win over Texas Southern started, Macura was practicing threes right in front of Montgomery, a fan sitting in the first row. When he couldn’t get the senior to turn his way, Montgomery made J.P. a deal– make your next shot and take the money.

“I was making fun of him because I don’t like him,” Montgomery said after the fact. Once he raised his initial offer from an Andrew Jackson to a Ben Franklin, Macura stopped what he was doing to double-check the agreed-upon amount.

Then he picked up the ball, drained a corner three and waved goodbye at Montgomery, who stood there dumbfounded. Message sent. Throughout his career-high 29 point performance, people kept trying to get in Macura’s head, and he tuned them out by lighting it up from the field.

But while Montgomery couldn’t possibly throw Macura off his game, TSU had a player who thought he could. 5-foot-7 guard Demontrae Jefferson said it would be just like going against himself.

“I let my game talk and my passion speaks loudly,” he said. “But my coaches said 55 is the one who’s gonna try to get in your head tonight. He’s the one who’s gonna be bumping you and pushing you.”

The fun-sized player who actually looks smaller than his listed height took 22 shots and finished with 20 points against the Musketeers. But even when Jefferson’s threes weren’t going in, he kept talking. He flexed. He slapped the floor. He hit Xavier’s Quentin Goodin below the belt. Eventually, Macura decided to say something.

“He kept trying to tell me to maintain focus,” Jefferson said.He kept telling me they told him I was just like him.”

And after Jefferson drew a technical foul for telling the referee he wasn’t calling a fair game, he said Macura, not his coach, was the person who told him to stop the act.

“Don’t get another tech,” Jefferson said he heard. “Remain focused. You gonna make a lot of money one day.”

Sean O’Mara remembers laughing as they went back and forth. He’s played with Macura for four years and witnessed him confront Mick Cronin in the postgame handshake line. O’Mara was right there when Macura gator-chomped at the Wisconsin student section. But he knew Jefferson could match all of Macura’s moves.

O’Mara and Jefferson are former teammates who played together on the Milwaukee AAU circuit. Friday night’s matchup, he said, pitted fire against fire.

“They both do a good job being confrontational,” O’Mara said. “I think that’s a competitive gift they both have. It’s funny seeing two of the most competitive guys I’ve met in my entire life go at each other.”

Macura shot especially well from the field in the first half as Xavier build a 49-37 halftime lead, making seven of his first nine shots, and the Musketeers set the school record for points scored in a half of a tournament game. While Jefferson and TSU tried to get Xavier out of its rhythm, Trevon Bluiett opened the the game with a smooth three pointer and Macura picked it up from there.

Like in last year’s Elite Eight run, explosive perimeter scoring has been Xavier’s calling card. The Musketeers are one of KenPom’s ten most efficient offenses in the country, and Chris Mack said Macura and Bluiett led the Musketeers to one of their best offensive showings of the season.

“We’ve talked a lot about experience mattering,” he said. “I thought those guys did a really good job of getting us off to a great start. Something I’ve grown accustomed to, having coached them for four years.”

And when opponents try to be more in their face, they know how to handle that, too. O’Mara said Macura has made strides this year in being hypercompetitive without starting a conflict. But just because the technical fouls are few and far between doesn’t mean his intensity is lacking.

“J.P. may be smiling a little more,” O’Mara said. “But that’s just a benefit of winning a game.”

He hasn’t changed.