SYRACUSE – The men who get paid to whistle while they work put Rick Jackson in a foul mood Wednesday night.
The post-up moves that made the Syracuse senior forward/center from Philadelphia the most consistent Orange man this season clearly didn’t impress the officials working the nationally televised rivalry game against Georgetown in the Carrier Dome. Jackson, who had recorded 16 double-doubles in 24 games, was whistled for his third foul three minutes into the second half and headed to the bench with his fourth two minutes later.
Freshmen Baye Moussa Keita and C.J. Fair played well enough to turn a one-point deficit into a four-point lead during the nine minutes Jackson sat. But when the Big East Player-of-the-Year candidate returned to action with 5:37 left, he wasn’t the player we had become accustomed to seeing. Overly concerned about fouling out, the normally aggressive Jackson played timidly.
He never got into the flow of the game and that contributed to SU’s folding down the stretch on their way to a 64-56 loss in front of an announced crowd of 26,904. The loss was the Orange men’s third in a row at home and their fifth in their last seven games.
Two things confounded Jackson about the performance that saw him finish with eight rebounds and just four points. First, he couldn’t believe that moves that had been legal the first 24 games weren’t on this night. Second, he couldn’t believe a game between the two physical Big East Conference foes would be called so close to the vest.
Jackson was whistled for three offensive fouls. He knew coming in that Hoya defenders might attempt to win a few Oscars while he was jockeying for offensive position near the basket.
“But I didn’t think the refs would fall for it,’’ he said. “That strategy hadn’t really worked all year against me. And in a rivalry game like Syracuse-Georgetown, you’d think the refs would let you play. They blew the whistle a lot. I mean, what could you do.”
Sitting out nine minutes was no fun for a guy who came into the game averaging 13.5 points and 11.5 rebounds and fully expecting to log 40 minutes.
“It was painful,’’ Jackson said of his spectator’s role. “Your team’s out there battling back and forth and you just have to watch and watch and watch until Coach calls you to go back in there. And when you do go in you don’t want to commit a silly foul and head to the bench for good. It’s hard.
“It just takes the killer out of you a little bit,’’ he continued. “It’s like you’ve got to play timid. You have to play the way the referees want you to.”
Without Jackson playing his normal game, the offensively challenged 12th-ranked Orange men struggled even more than normal. They shut just 39.6 percent from the field and were just 25 percent (4-of-16) from beyond the arc. Kris Joseph led the way with 14, followed by Fair, who had 12 and Brandon Triche, who had 11. The thing is that SU had plenty of open looks, but was unable to convert.
The Orange also struggled against the Hoyas tenacious defense, turning the ball over 14 times, while recording just 12 assists.
SU dropped to 20-5 and 7-5 in the league. While 11th-ranked Georgetown won its seventh straight to improve to 19-5 and 8-4. The win was the first in six tries by Hoyas’s coach John Thompson III in the Carrier Dome.
The Orange will attempt to get back on the winning track Saturday at Louisville before returning home for games against West Virginia Monday and Rutgers the following Saturday.
“We bounced back after losing four in a row,’’ Jackson said. “We can bounce back from this, too. I’m just going to be a little more careful about guys flopping because I know other teams are going to try the same, and I’m going to need to adjust.”