Northern Iowa-Xavier features dynamic scorers
Sunday's championship game of the Tires Pro Invitational features two early breakout stars in No. 11 Xavier's J.P. Macura and Northern Iowa's Klint Carlson.
Macura, a junior sharpshooter, poured in a career-high 28 points in the Musketeers' win over Clemson on Friday. It was an impressive performance highlighted by six 3-pointers, some from way beyond the arc.
Clemson coach Brad Brownell called Macura "unbelievable." "He just kept backing up on us," Brownell said.
Xavier coach Chris Mack credited Macura's teammates for getting him the ball. The Musketeers (4-0) had 17 assists.
"His teammates really wanted to find him," Mack told reporters. "If you're hot the way he was, it's nice to know that people are looking for him in transition. And we ran a few plays for him to get him open."
Carlson was equally spectacular in Northern Iowa's comeback win over Oklahoma on Friday. He scored 22 points and led the Panthers back from an 18-point deficit in the second half with a barrage of 3-pointers and some slick moves to the basket. Eighteen of Carlson's points came in the last six minutes of regulation and overtime.
"I guess I was feeling it," Carlson told reporters after the overtime win over the Sooners. "I don't even remember how many shots I took, but at that point, I was just glad they were going in."
Xavier and Northern Iowa each suffered heartbreaking losses in the NCAA Tournament last season. The Musketeers surrendered two 3-pointers to Wisconsin in the final 12 seconds of a second-round loss to the Badgers.
Four of the Musketeers' top six scorers returned from last year's NCAA Tournament team, including junior guard Trevon Bluiett, who had 21 points against Clemson.
Bluiett, who needs just eight points to reach 1,000 for his career, combines with Macura to give Xavier one of the top backcourts in the nation.
Macura was the Big East's sixth man of the year last season and looks like he'll contend for player of the year this season. He's averaging 19.5 points during the Musketeers' 4-0 start. Xavier is expected to contend with defending national champion Villanova in the Big East.
Last season for Northern Iowa ended in gut-wrenching fashion. The Panthers squandered a 12-point lead in the final 44 seconds against Texas A&M and ended up losing in overtime to the Aggies in the second round of tournament.
Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson has a relatively young roster, featuring seven freshmen, but the Panthers played beyond their years in the comeback win against Oklahoma.
"We kept playing defense and rebounding when our offense was not very good and I like that," Jacobson said after the win over the Sooners. "And the other thing I like was that a relatively new group believed we could get all the way back."
The Musketeers and Panthers will tip off at approximately 7:30 p.m. Sunday at HP Field House in Orlando, Fla.
Xavier has won three regular-season tournament titles in the last 10 seasons.