This is not how Rick Jackson wanted his career to end.
Syracuse’s lone senior, and best interior player struggled through a seven point, four rebound performance as the Orange was ousted from the NCAA tournament by Big East rival Marquette, 66-62. It was Syracuse’s second-straight early exit and left Jackson frustrated afterward.
“I’m not satisfied,” Jackson said. “For us to take a step back, I’m not satisfied with that. We can’t blame anyone but ourselves.”
Jackson dominated Indiana State in the second round with a season-high 23 points to go along with seven rebounds as the Orange rolled past the Sycamores 77-60. But Jackson had no such luck against the Golden Eagles, as Jackson was faced with a swarm of Marquette defenders each time he touched the ball.
“Everybody’s been doing it the last couple of weeks,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “They took the ball out of his hands, they weren’t going to let him get to the basket.”
It worked, as Jackson attempted just six shots, the fewest he’s had since Feb. 14 when the Orange beat West Virginia.
Despite Marquette’s strategy, the Orange was up 59-56 with 2:53 left after Jackson scored on a layup. But the lead quickly disappeared on a Jae Crowder 3-pointer that tied the game.
Things only got worse.
Scoop Jardine was called for an over-and-back on an in-bounds play and on the ensuing play, Darius Johnson-Odom’s 3 put the Golden Eagles ahead for good.
“We played hard,” Jackson said. “But down the stretch when it counted, we made some mistakes that you can’t make in a close game.”
Even though Syracuse lost, there was no denying Jackson’s effort. He ended up logging 40 minutes while adding three steals and a block.
“I did everything I could do for us to be successful,” Jackson said. “I never took a play off. I was always out there playing hard, trying to be the leader, trying to motivate guys, help however I could.”
Syracuse relied heavily on Jackson throughout the season as freshmen centers Baye Moussa Keita and Fab Melo struggled to adjust to the college game. Jackson answered the call, averaging 13.1 points and 10.3 rebounds per game while being named Big East Defensive Player of the Year.
But Jackson’s importance to Syracuse went beyond the numbers. His leadership by example left a lasting impression on everyone.
“I wanted to do it for Rick at the end of the day,” Dion Waiters said. “I just feel bad that we came up short on a game that we had.”
Unfortunately, that will be the last chapter in Jackson’s college career.
“It’s just tough knowing you just played your last game and you lost and that’s it,” Jackson said. “I just wish these guys the best of luck. Hopefully next year they can go further and do better things.”
Brad Bierman contributed to this report.