MBB : Solo act: Lack of inside presence around Jackson dooms SU

first_imgThe look on Rick Jackson’s face said it all. He was gassed. Frustrated. Helpless.His final touch of the basketball in a Syracuse uniform was a fitting send-off for what he experienced all game in SU’s 66-62 loss to Marquette in the third round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday.This scene symbolized the game and epitomized the struggles Jackson faced in many of SU’s eight losses this season. As Scoop Jardine took the second of two free throws with the Orange down 66-62, he missed to the right on purpose. Jackson, a product of so many rugged Big East contests, went in for the rebound. Momentarily, he had the ball in his grasp.Then two Marquette defenders converged on him as he looked back for an open shooter from beyond the 3-point line. He was stripped by Dwight Buycks, who came up with the loose ball after. With less than five seconds remaining, Kris Joseph started to walk off the court, defeated.And Jackson gave that look. The look that said, ‘What just happened?’AdvertisementThis is placeholder textSU’s season-ending loss was a microcosm of its struggles all season — mostly during a losing streak in which it lost six of eight games. In four of those eight games, Jackson was a shell of his usual self. Frustrated, hounded constantly and with no other inside presence, Jackson had to try and do it all by himself. That was the fatal flaw that led to Syracuse’s early exit in the NCAA Tournament.‘I did everything I think I can do to be successful and for us to be successful,’ a sullen Jackson said in the SU locker room after Sunday’s loss. ‘I can’t really say I wish I did anything else different. You know? I played hard. There’s just nothing I can say.’That feeling of desperation came from superb game planning from Marquette head coach Buzz Williams. It’s no secret the Syracuse offense runs through Jackson.Twenty-nine coaches have planned for Jackson. Four got it right. Williams did well the first time the teams matched up inside Milwaukee’s Bradley Center on Jan. 29. And on Sunday, he mastered the task in just one day of preparation.A lot of it, Williams said, came down to luck. He had to instruct his players to pick when to double- and triple-team Jackson and when to lay off. At times, they were burned. The Orange shot 4-of-7 from 3-point range in the first half.But they frustrated Jackson. That much was certain. After his first miss of the half, he clapped his hands together. Each time he got the ball, there was little he could do. He ended up with three of SU’s 18 turnovers, and he contributed more errant passes that were representative of the Orange’s overall sloppy play.‘You try to get all the mistakes out of the way during the regular season,’ Jackson said. ‘So when you get here, you won’t make stupid mistakes. But you have to give Marquette some credit.’Credit Williams, who never wavered from his approach entering the second half in a close game. Despite SU’s success from beyond the arc in the first half, Marquette came out with the same plan from the start.On Syracuse’s second offensive possession of the half, Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder hounded Jackson in the corner, leading to a turnover.‘He’s so accustomed to being double-teamed,’ Williams said of Jackson, ‘that you have to almost pick your poison on when you’re going to double-team.’Marquette picked its poison on Jackson often. And why shouldn’t the Golden Eagles? Surely, they saw what happened in the Carrier Dome against Georgetown and on the road against Louisville earlier this season. In those games, Jackson combined for 11 points and 15 rebounds, something he surpassed numerous times in a single game this season.Why shouldn’t they, considering that when teams get lucky and stop Jackson, they often stop the rest of SU’s offense, too?The most help Jackson had inside all season came in flashes from Fab Melo and Baye Moussa Keita. And on Sunday, that showed. Especially with Melo, who played what looked like the worst five minutes of his season Sunday.Melo’s stat line in those five minutes: three fouls, one rebound, one turnover, zero points.At one point, after getting outmuscled on a series of defensive rebound opportunities, he stood under the basket while several members of Marquette played volleyball on the offensive glass. The Golden Eagles got three offensive rebounds on that one possession.And after he committed his third foul at the 4:45 mark of the first half, Joseph re-entered the game with a simple message.‘Fab!’ he yelled. He motioned for him to go to the bench.‘They just weren’t ready for the physical nature of this game, our two freshmen,’ Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said after the game. ‘They just weren’t ready for it, those two big guys.’And the recurring theme that popped up throughout the season finally doomed Syracuse on Sunday. Its shooters couldn’t hit from outside in the second half, going just 1-for-8 after its hot streak in the first.And down low, Jackson was an island. Before a Senior Day against DePaul reserved for Jackson, SU assistant coach Mike Hopkins said the one player Syracuse couldn’t afford to lose was Jackson.It was an obvious statement referring to a potential injury to SU’s most valuable player. But after seven points, four rebounds and three turnovers, Syracuse lost Jackson.‘You can combine all my years here,’ Jackson said, ‘and this is still the best year I had. I thought I did everything for us to be successful.’Brett LoGiurato is the sports editor at The Daily Orange, where his column appears occasionally. He can be reached at [email protected]   Published on March 22, 2011 at 12:00 pm Commentscenter_img Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

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