Saints need consistency out of Jackson in backcourt

Siena’s shooting guard has been Dr. Jackson and Mr. Hide in the last two games.

Siena’s shooting guard has been Dr. Jackson and Mr. Hide in the last two games.

After a forgettable 1-for-8, including 0-for-4 from three-point range, in a win over Mount St. Mary’s last Saturday, junior Clarence Jackson’s good doctor side re-emerged against Loyola on Monday, when he scored 24 points in 29 minutes of a 76-56 win to cap a furious stretch of four games in seven days.

Jackson spent much of the latter stages of the tight Mount St. Mary’s game on the bench with a grim look on his face, even when the Saints staged a glacier-like comeback and won in overtime to preserve a 28-game home winning streak.

Jackson’s performance against Mount St. Mary’s has been the aberration, though, as he has been steadily — and sometimes spectac­ularly — productive for Siena heading into an important 1 p.m. game against Niagara today at the Times Union Center.

After scoring 24 points in 29 minutes against Loyola, Jackson has moved into a slight lead in scoring for the Saints at 15.1 points per game, to 15.0 for senior power forward Alex Franklin and 14.6 for senior small forward Edwin Ubiles.

The scoring lead is utterly insignificant on a team that is known for sharing the ball, but the fact that Jackson is on top is telling, since he averages the fewest minutes among the starters. His numbers against Loyola marked the sixth time this year he has scored over 20 points in less than 30 minutes, and when he is on, which has been most of the time, Siena, 4-0 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and 11-4 overall, is pretty difficult to beat.

After the obvious nod to point guard Ronald Moore, who was named one of 20 finalists for the Bob Cousy Award this week, head coach Fran McCaffery mentioned Jackson in answering who, if anyone, should be considered a team MVP so far.

“His confidence seems to be at an all-time high,” McCaffery said. “I always felt like if I gave him the minutes, he could lead us in scoring. I thought maybe he could lead the league in scoring. But I think it would be hard for anyone on our team to lead the league in scoring the way we share the ball. But it’s better that way.”

With Jackson in a funk on the bench against Mount St. Mary’s, backup Kyle Downey was a key figure in staging the comeback, rem­iniscent of his role in an overtime win at Marist last year.

Jackson had everyone from assistant coach Andrew Francis to former MAAC player of the year Kenny Hasbrouck, whose starting job Jackson filled this season, talking in his ear.

He responded by lighting it up at Loyola, making a three at the beginning and end of a 15-0 blur of a scoring run that put the game away early in the second half.

“I wasn’t mentally ready,” Jackson said of the Mount St. Mary’s game. “I was missing shots and letting it get to me. We’ve got Kyle, and he stepped up big off the bench. That’s what’s great about this team, we’ve got a lot of depth, and anyone can have a good night. You’ve just have to accept one of those nights and move past it.”

“I knew he would [bounce back],” McCaffery said after the Loyola game. “It was one of those games for him. And Kyle played great. That’s the beauty of the team, and tonight, it was Clarence.”

The Saints are going to need everyone to be on top of his game today against Niagara (3-1, 10-6), which lost some of its stars due to injury for short stretches this season, but has everyone healthy and moved into a tie with Fairfield for second place in the MAAC by beating the Stags, 77-68, on Monday.

In particular, the wiry, active 6-foot-5, 205-pound Bilal Benn, averaging a double-double with 15.5 ppg and 10.5 rebounds per game, is back to his old self after missing most of December due to minor knee surgery.

“He’s a terrific player. He really is,” McCaffery said. “He’s a gamer on top of being really talented. When you get that combination, that’s a pretty special player.”

Purple Eagles shooting guard Tyrone Lewis, who became the school’s all-time leader in three-pointers made and steals last month, has also missed games due to injury, but is averaging 17.8 ppg since returning on Nov. 25.

Niagara is 5-3 in games in which one of its first-team all-MAAC players was out.

Moore, who is leading the country in assists per game at 8.7, was one of just three mid-major players to be named a Cousy Award finalist; Harvard’s Jeremy Lin and Gonzaga’s Matt Bouldin were the others.

Also among the 20 finalists is Bishop Maginn graduate Talor Battle of Penn State, and the clear front-runner for the award for the nation’s top point guard is Kentucky freshman John Wall. The list will be pared to 10 by Feb. 1, then to five by March 1. The final five will be presented to Cousy and the Hall of Fame’s selection committee, which will announce the winner April 5 as part of the Final Four weekend in Indianapolis.

Categories: College Sports

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