Jardine scoops Syracuse to Sweet 16

PITTSBURGH -- Scoop Jardine sort of hung there for a handful of seconds, inverted over a press table, a computer and the other superfluous paraphernalia of a sportswriter’s workspace, his legs dangling in the air and his hands somehow on the floor to complete the awkward handstand.

Brandon Triche came over to make sure Jardine wasn’t hurt, thinking maybe he could sort of use Jardine’s legs to crank his teammate to an upright position.

Just as he got there, though, Jardine stood up, his trademark grin smiling across his face.

“He said he always wanted to do something like that, go Dennis Rodman over the press table,’’ Triche said. “As soon as he got up, I knew he was fine. He was smiling.’’

And when Jardine is smiling everything is right in the Orange’s world.

Syracuse goes hockey-line deep, giving Jim Boeheim the delighted luxury of playing the constant tinkerer. If one guy is off, surely someone will be on.

But the Orange accelerate from good to special when Jardine and his senior cohort, Kris Joseph, are good and in the second half against Kansas State, Jardine found his extra gear, lifting Syracuse to the 75-59 win and a date in the Sweet 16.

“I’ve been here five years. This is about my legacy and I’m not ready for that to be written yet,’’ Jardine said. “We lost in this round last year [to Marquette] and I took that personal. That’s why I came back. I wasn’t going to let it happen again.’’

Since the brackets were revealed on Sunday, the news surrounding Syracuse has been about anything and everything but basketball. Fab Melo was suspended for the duration of the season on Tuesday, igniting a firestorm of conversation about just how the Orange would win without their big man and if the Orange could win without their big man.

Syracuse did little to quell the worries with a lackluster opener against UNC Asheville, a win that left plenty of people convinced questionable officiating victimized the Bulldogs.

On Saturday, particularly in the second half, the Orange redirected the conversation.

Playing arguably its best basketball in weeks, Syracuse finally looked like a No. 1 seed.

And more, it played like a team that wasn’t carrying around a Melo-sized albatross.

“We were having fun again, out there smiling,’’ Joseph said. “I think some of it maybe was because of pressure. We talked about it, me and Scoop, before the game to the team and at halftime. There’s no reason to not just go out and play. We know what we want to do. We know what we want to accomplish, so let’s just go do it.’’

It sounds easier than it is, frankly. Playing with a target isn’t easy and it’s especially difficult for the Orange, where the target flashes in neon amid the myriad controversies to have hit the team this season.

This team has had more doubters than fans as far back as November. There is no star here, no collection of future NBA talent ready to cash in shortly, which is usually the prerequisite for NCAA success.

A few doubters had to turn convert after this one, when Syracuse showed that the team-as-star theory can work quite nicely. Evidence? How about this? Syracuse had 33 bench points, Kansas State 0.

“Everyone says you have to have a go-to guy and I’m not sure if you’re not better if you have different guys,’’ said Jim Boeheim, who had no problem riding one guy to a national title in 2003. “We’ve had different guys make plays all year.’’

He’s right. On Thursday it was James Southerland saving Syracuse from epic disaster.

This time it was Jardine.

The difference is, the more often its Jardine, the better off the Orange is.

Kansas State, playing without Jamar Samuels, who was withheld due to eligibility concerns, gave Syracuse a dose of Big 12 toughness in the first half. The Wildcats didn’t merely expose Syracuse’s Achilles heel -- its rebounding -- it eviscerated it. Kansas State outrebounded the Orange, 28-16 and even more critically, 15-3 on the offensive glass.

That allowed the Wildcats to hang around, with Syracuse clinging to a 25-24 edge at the break.

But when Jordan Henriquez, who would finish with 14 points and 17 rebounds, picked up his third foul, it was all but over for K-State.

Syracuse should patent its ability to go on a run whenever it needs one. The next time the Wildcats looked up, the scoreboard went from 39-34 to 55-42.

In that dash, Jardine scored six points and dished out three assists, entirely converting his boxscore. In the opening 20, he had 2 points, three assists and four turnovers. By game’s end, he had 16, 8 and six.

“In the first half, in spite of what he might think, he struggled,’ Boeheim said. “He made some bad decisions. You know, I don’t know what he was doing on a couple of plays. And we struggled. But we’re a point guard-oriented team, especially when you play a team like Kansas State. They take away your wing passes, so you really have to do stuff off the dribble.’’

Which is where Jardine comes in.

Jardine does not lack for confidence. He insists he has played well for weeks, even though his coach has practically been begging Jardine and Joseph to play like seniors.

And he argues that his team has played just fine, too, though outsiders might beg to differ.

“I don’t know what a No. 1 seed is supposed to look like,’’ he said. “I just know we’re supposed to win and that’s what we’re doing.’’

They will continue to better their odds if Jardine continues to play as he did against Kansas State.

He was aggressive, going directly at Angel Rodriguez. Because he did, it opened a lid on a Syracuse offense that has been sealed shut recently.

“You know when Scoop is out there, playing aggressive like that, sacrificing his body, it makes us so much better,’’ Triche said. “We feed off of him and his energy. That’s what makes us go.’’

About that ‘sacrificing the body’ thing, Jardine has a confession to make.

“I made a bad shot,’’ he said sheepishly, “so I was trying to make up for it with dramatic effect.’’

And then Jardine smiled.

And all was right with the Orange.