When things go wrong for Jim Boeheim and his Syracuse Orange, point guard Scoop Jardine usually is the fall guy.
He takes the criticism in stride.
"Coach Boeheim always says in this sport you have to have thick skin," Jardine said. "As fast as they can talk great about you, the faster they can talk bad about you. I just try not to look at the negative stuff and try to stay with the positive mindframe. I always know that my teammates believe in me, and that's who I need to impress."
Last season, Jardine, who redshirted the previous year because of a leg injury, began to impress on a regular basis, emerging in a role he certainly wasn't accustomed to — as the first or second guy off the bench. Although freshman Brandon Triche started every game at point guard, Jardine became a key player on a team that finished 30-5 and advanced to the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament. He averaged 22 minutes and nine points. And had 151 assists to go with 67 turnovers.
Jardine moved into the starting role at the point this season, and although he's averaging 12 points and leads the Big East in assists at 5.9 per game, his penchant for making an ill-advised pass or taking a bad shot at the most inopportune time often stokes the ire of the fans and furrows the brow of his 66-year-old head coach.
"Last year, he really turned the corner in a sense that he really valued each possession," said assistant coach Mike Hopkins, who works with the guards in practice. "His situation coming off the bench really forced him to be a better player. This year, you'll see signs of him going back and trying to make the risky (play). That's Scoop, also trying to keep everybody involved and happy. But he's talented, boy."
The Scoop that Orange fans dread appeared most recently in the last 30 seconds of the first half at Villanova just over a week ago. Trying to avenge an embarrassing home loss to the Wildcats in late January before a Carrier Dome crowd of 33,736, Syracuse held a 29-22 lead and Jardine was walking the ball down court, apparently ready to run some time off the clock and maybe give the Orange a double-digit lead at the break.
Instead, Jardine's weak pass to the wing was intercepted by Maalik Wayns, who went in for a layup. When the horn ended the half, Syracuse was up just 29-27 after a bizarre sequence that included two lane violations and an Orange technical foul.
"He made a bad turnover, and that led to everything," Boeheim said. "You just have to avoid those bad turnovers and that would've solved a lot of problems down there. It was a bad mistake."
Still, Jardine finished with a team-high 20 points. Syracuse won 69-64.
"Scoop is like a risk-reward type of player. He'll do some things that are just maddening, that'll make you want to kill him," said Carl Arrigale, Jardine's high school coach at Neumann-Goretti in Philadelphia. "But he usually does more good things than bad. Being Scoop, he'll make an easy play hard sometimes, but then he'll make a terrific play where he takes that chance that somebody else might not take, and he's got the talent to get it done."
Look no further than the Orange's last game. Jardine, who has 178 assists and 87 turnovers, scored seven of his 17 points in a crucial stretch to pull Syracuse ahead of archrival Georgetown Saturday. The Orange (24-6, 11-6 Big East) held on for a 58-51 win, their fourth straight and sixth over a ranked team. They moved up five spots in the national rankings to No. 12.
Those who know Jardine best probably expected that, because he's always been a performer. And the crowd of 20,276 — the largest ever for a Georgetown game in the Verizon Center — included former President Bill Clinton.
"He's an entertainer," Arrigale said. "If you don't think for a minute he doesn't love when they call his name out in the Carrier Dome, you're out of your mind. That makes him happier than anything could possibly make him happy."
If one play could define a player, Arrigale knows which one he would pick for Jardine.
He still shakes his head thinking about it.
"He threw a half-court, alley-oop pass in a close playoff game (against archrival Roman Catholic), and D.J. Rivera catches it and reverse dunks it," Arrigale said. "In amazement, the other team didn't score another basket. The crowd just went crazy. You look and you're like, 'What were you thinking?' when the ball leaves his hands. And the next thing you know, what was a six- or eight-point game turns into a 20-something-point rout in a playoff game against a team that we played close all year."
For all his transgressions, Jardine remains a leader and has never ducked the media when things sour. When the Orange lost four straight after an 18-0 start and fans began to worry about the postseason, he was in the locker room to answer every question — and there were plenty.
"It's always been in me to lead. It's just my personality," Jardine said. "Sometimes, I can be risky, but I'm really working on trying to value every possession. I just try to make the best play for my team."