Syracuse’s freshmen maturing

A little more than two weeks ago, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim made an indirect assessment about his current crop of freshmen.

“Our four veterans players have gotten us to where we are,” Boeheim said during his post-game press conference Jan. 25 after SU had lost to Seton Hall 61-56. “They have to play well every night for us.”

The four players he was referring to were Scoop Jardine, Rick Jackson, Brandon Triche and Kris Joseph. Without them, Boeheim reasoned, SU would have difficulty staying competitive with other teams.

But in Wednesday’s 64-56 loss to Georgetown, it wasn’t his core four who kept the game close.

Two of the four that he had just mentioned had ineffective games. Jardine went 2-for-7 from the field for seven points while Rick Jackson had his worst game of the season, a four-point, eight rebound performance.

Things looked even worse for SU when Jackson committed his fourth foul with 14:40 left and Syracuse trailing 39-38.

And yet, with Jackson planted firmly on the bench, Syracuse took the lead, outscoring the Hoyas 15-10 over the next eight minutes to take a 53-49 lead with 6:35 left.

It was Syracuse’s freshmen class that led the charge.

During that time, CJ Fair, Baye Moussa Keita and Dion Waiters played all played key minutes. Fair had six points, Keita had two blocks and four points, and Waiters made a steal.

“They did a great job when I wasn’t in there of controlling the middle,” Jackson said after the game. “They did a great job of blocking shots and rebounding. You couldn’t ask for any more from them.”

As the saying goes, come February, the term “freshmen” doesn’t really apply anymore.

“We’re 20-plus games in so we’re not considered freshmen anymore,” Fair said after the game. “Myself, Dion and Baye have been in this situation before, so it wasn’t anything new.”

It showed on Wednesday.

Fair was SU’s second leading scorer, with 12 points on 6-for-9 shooting, five rebounds and two blocks. It was Fair’s layup with 6:35 left that gave SU its final basket of the game.

“He’s played steady,” Boeheim said during his press conference following Wednesday’s game. “Really steady for us all year.”

As for Keita, he finished with four points, four rebounds and five blocks. Still, the statistics didn’t quite show the impact he had on the game.

“I thought Baye was active,” Boeheim said. “He played the way he plays. He’s very active. He’s had a really solid year.”

All of the freshmen are learning as they go along. Some lessons are harder than others.

“We had them right where we want them,” Fair said. “Then they got a couple easy layups to get their confidence. Our defensive broke down, and then they took the lead. They pulled it out.”

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Wes Cheng

About Wes Cheng

Wes has worked for Rivals.com covering the New York Knicks, as well as for Scout.com covering Syracuse athletics. Wes has also worked for the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong) and reported on the NBA and MLB for the New York Sportscene. A native of Long Island, New York, Wes graduated from Syracuse University in 2005. Follow him on Twitter @ChengWes.
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