Prevailing wisdom says the more days in a row a team plays, the more tired legs get, the longer the fatigue of a series of short turnarounds builds, the more players will struggle to get jump shots to fall as they get less and less lift from exhausted legs. A day after pretty much the worst shooting performance imaginable, Xavier fans were hoping there was nowhere to go but up. That being said, I am not sure anyone was ready for the absolute clinic JP Macura put on in the first half, least of all the Clemson Tigers. Clemson varied their defensive looks, switched defenders on Macura, and forced him to catch the ball at ever more ridiculous distances from the basket. None of that worked. After Xavier had slogged through an overtime win against Missouri, Macura threw the team on his back for 20 minutes today and gave them the boost they would need to see off a very tough Clemson team.
Things started a lot more promisingly on offense for Xavier than has been the case in other games so far this season. By the first media timeout, the Muskies were 3-4 from deep, with Macura accounting for two of the makes himself. Also promising was the fact that Clemson’s main weapon, forward Jaron Blossomgame, was scoreless and struggling to make his impact, a story that would continue throughout the game with Blossomgame ending with a very inefficient 13/3/2 line. Xavier had jumped out 13-10, but having seen the offense stall the day before this was far from conclusive.
Out of that break, Macura immediately recognized that he was the hot hand (or perhaps just assumed it like he normally does) and began putting the Clemson defense to the sword. Back to back trips with a three would stretch the lead to 9 and serve notice that this was not going to be another 2-22 day from deep for Xavier. After Clemson brought it back to within 4, Ed Sumner would cash in three the old fashioned way before Malcolm Bernard become the next Muskie to torch the Tigers from deep and push the lead to double digits. Trevon Bluiett made sure it would stay there until under 6 minutes with a jumper of his own as Xavier showed the ability to hit back after a good team gave them a run.
What made X so good last season was the fact that it was really difficult to get them down and keep them there. A team possessed of so many weapons is bound to find something that works after a while, but the offense has struggled to get through the gears at times early in this season. With Clemson closing the lead to 5 with under 5 minutes left, it was obvious who the go to guy would be for Xavier today, though. It started with Macura tipping back a Bernard miss and then converting his subsequent steal into another two points. After an Avry Holmes three, Macura responded with one of his own for good measure. Just over 2 minutes after his tip-in, Macura jarred another jumper to give Xavier an 11-5 run with 9 of the points belonging to him. Another Trevon Bluiett three would follow before Donte Grantham responded to cut the lead to 8 at half time, but Xavier had shown a vicious fightback at the end of the half as Clemson had closed in that had spirits high as they went into the break.
The team’s goals out of the half could not have been more clear. For Clemson, it was to find a way to contain JP Macura, who had torched them for 23 points in the first half. For Xavier, keeping Clemson at an arm’s distance was key and keeping Jaron Blossomgame quiet would go a long way in doing that. A trend that developed in the second half was that Bluiett and Blossomgame apparently do not like each other. Not since he too exception to Henry Ellenson’s two-footed Nigel de Jong special against Marquette last season have we seen Trevon get this fired up at an opponent. Whatever the cause, it is hard to say it didn’t work out for Xavier in the end. Coming out of the break, the first five minutes were a dead heat between the teams with Bluiett accounting for 8 of Xavier’s 10 and Blossomgame scoring 5 and assisting another 3 of Clemson’s 10. From there, the game would spring to life before sputtering back to a scoreless crawl from time to time, with Xavier keeping Clemson 8-11 points back until they finally made their move with just over 7 minutes left. At 7:12 Blossomgame finally cracked double digits and cut Xavier’s lead to just 5, the lowest margin since there were 5 minutes left in the first half. Out of a timeout Xavier couldn’t counter punch and Sidy Djitte tipped home to cut the lead to 3 on the stroke of 6 minutes. After keeping a holding pattern for much of the second half, Xavier now had to contend with Clemson’s final punch.
Malcolm Bernard was not necessarily the most heralded addition to the roster when he came in to finish his eligibility at Xavier this year, but he has come up huge for the Musketeers two games in a row now. After setting up the game winning possession yesterday by blocking a three point attempt, he sparked a 6-0 run over two crucial minutes today with a pair of layups sandwiching a 2-2 trip to the line for Macura. It pushed Xavier’s lead back to 9 and put Clemson back on the ropes. With 2:14 remaining Clemson had cut it back to 6 when the man who had started it all for Xavier today, JP Macura, emerged from the swarm of orange shirts that had engulfed him for most of the second half and buried the dagger for good with his 6th made three of the game. From there on in it was all over but the usual slog of free throws any close basketball game becomes at the end and a nonsensical technical on RaShid Gaston that made the days of Jalen Reynolds seem not so far away. In the end, Xavier had outlasted their best opponent of the season and grabbed a big win by getting enough from just the right guys. And a whole bunch from JP Macura.