After righting the ship on the road, Syracuse suffered another setback at home Wednesday. The Orange hosted rival Georgetown, and despite trailing for much of the second half, the Hoyas rallied late for a 64-56 win.
The Orange played one of their best defensive games of the season and shut down the Hoyas vaunted Princeton offense for 38 minutes, but it was the final two that cost Syracuse the game.
“We had them right where we wanted them around the six or five minute mark,” freshman C.J. Fair said. “They got a couple layups and got back in the game, then our defense broke down for a couple of plays. After that, they took over the game.”
Wednesday’s game was another classic contest between the Orange and the Hoyas. There were six lead changes and the score was tied nine times. Neither team was able to get a double digit lead, and the final margin of eight was the biggest lead of the game.
SU’s Rick Jackson – hampered by foul trouble – had what was probably his worst game of the season. The double-double machine finished with only four points on 1-of-6 shooting to go along with eight rebounds.
“This was the first game Ricky (Jackson) has gotten into foul trouble,” SU head coach Jim Boeheim said. “When he’s not in there, it hurts the whole post game. We’ve really come to depend on him and I thought that was a big difference in the game.”
Early on, the Hoyas – who have been the hottest team in the Big East recently – looked like they might follow the example of Villanova and Seton Hall and simply smother the Orange with a barrage of 3-pointers. However, after falling behind by six early, the Cuse responded with an 8-0 run to take the lead.
Following the Orange rally, the teams battled back and forth for the rest of the half. Georgetown looked like it might have swung the momentum back to its side right before halftime, after Hollis Thompson knocked down a 3-pointer to tie the game at 29 late in the shot clock. However, it was Syracuse that would strike last as freshman Dion Waiters hit a runner at the buzzer to send the Orange into the locker room with the lead.
Neither team shot particularly well in the first half, as SU connected on 42 percent of its attempts, while the Hoyas connected on 40 percent of theirs. Despite the loss, Boeheim said he was extremely pleased with his team’s defense after the game.
“They’re going to make shots, but I thought we did a good job defensively,” Boeheim said. “It was probably as good of a defensive game that we’ve played this year. The first half, I thought the difference in the game was that we rebounded the ball, but we didn’t do a good job rebounding in the second half.”
Georgetown out-rebounded Syracuse 34-28 for the game, after trailing by three in that category at the half. A good deal of that change can be attributed to the foul trouble Jackson found himself in. He picked up his fourth foul with 14:31 remaining in the game, and was relegated to the bench for the next nine minutes of game time.
However, with their senior leader on the bench, the Orange would respond. Syracuse turned a three point deficit at the time of Jackson’s benching, to a three point lead by the time he returned. The Cuse was anchored by the solid play of freshmen Baye Moussa Keita and Fair, who combined to score 16 points on 8-of-12 shooting, pull down nine rebounds and block seven shots.
“He’s one of our top guys for rebounds, points and just a defensive presence,” leading scorer Kris Joseph said of Jackson. “Like I said, C.J. stepped up on the offensive end, Baye came in and he made some big plays for us. That’s what we need, for guys to be able to come in and be able to step up for someone who’s on the bench, and they both did a phenomenal job for us tonight.”
Unlike earlier losses against Villanova and Marquette, where the Orange trailed for much of the game and had to fight to get back in it, Syracuse led the Hoyas – albeit by a slim margin – for most of the second half. With four minutes remaining, SU still had a three point lead and things were looking good for the home team.
That’s when the game began to unravel.
Thompson drilled his third 3-pointer of the game to tie the score at 55, and ignite a 9-1 Georgetown run that would clinch the Hoyas' seventh straight victory.
"We just came off a very, very good offensive game. We had a bad one tonight. That doesn’t mean we’re going to have a bad one tomorrow,” Boeheim said. “We had a bad offensive game today. We missed some shots, some threes, some shots around the basket that we have to make in this kind of game. We didn’t make them tonight.”