For the second straight game, sophomore Jesse Edwards saw extended time in the middle of the 2-3 zone as backup center. Edwards played 24 minutes, but Jim Boeheim said that Edwards is “still not ready.”
In a game where Syracuse got out-rebounded 53-33, Edwards grabbed eight important misses off the glass before eventually fouling out. North Carolina leads the country in offensive rebounding percentage.
“He’s learning but he gave us some really good minutes,” Boeheim said post-game.
Edwards scored six points to go along with his eight rebounds. He disrupted passing lanes and grabbed four steals. He had a rejection as well, all against North Carolina’s imposing front-line of Garrison Brooks, Armando Bacot, Day’Ron Sharpe and Walker Kessler.
“He had a little length. He got a good swipe on one of my moves I tried to make. But he did a lot better job than [Marek] Dolezaj boxing us out and kind of slowing us down from getting on the offensive boards,” North Carolina’s Bacot said following the game.
Edwards has been putting in extra time in practice with center coach Allen Griffin. He’s reached out to former Syracuse big men on how to best approach his situation as he’s tried to stay mentally prepared.
“We’re playing for the team. Whenever I can get in and help I do. Whenever coach calls on me, I’m ready. That’s the mindset I have going in,” Edwards said on Saturday after the loss to Georgia Tech.
Edwards has improved as the season has gone on. At times he can look out of place, other times he can impress. Against North Carolina he got loose on an out of bounds underneath for a dunk by slipping the screen as both Carolina defenders went with a hot-shooting Buddy Boeheim.
Edwards caught the ball with alacrity and flushed. It was as thunderous a dunk as he’s had at Syracuse.
“Jesse was great. We knew he was probably going to get into foul trouble. It’s not easy guarding those guys and he doesn’t really have experience like that in practice. ... These guys have 50 pounds on him,” Buddy Boeheim said. “He stepped up though with his length. He just bothered stuff. He did a really good job. That’s the perfect game for him where he can use his size and use his length.”
Earlier in the season, Jim Boeheim was upset with him for his inability to stretch to the corner defensively out of the zone. Following Saturday’s loss at Georgia Tech, Boeheim said the initial plan was to redshirt Edwards this season. It wasn’t until the NCAA allowed a redshirt for all players that the plan was scrapped. Then Bourama Sidibe went down with a torn meniscus.
“When Bourama got injured it was clear I was going to be in the game when Marek got into foul trouble,” Edwards said.
In Syracuse’s last two games Edwards has played a career-high in minutes. He grabbed career-highs in rebounds (eight) both times, notably against the better front-court players in the ACC. The only other game he’s played over 20 minuets was against Miami where he scored seven points and grabbed six rebounds.
“He’s definitely gotten better,” Buddy Boeheim began. “He’s definitely got some work to do I think, just on the offensive end knowing where to be. Sometimes we’ll throw it to him and he’ll kind of get stuck and look around. If he catches it too far out of the paint you don’t really know what he’s going to do.”
Still, the younger Boeheim said he was proud of the effort Edwards gave against UNC.
“He’s got a lot of talent though. He could be really good. He’s got to get a little tougher, and go for rebounds, grab it with two hands. But the minutes he gave us tonight were really good. He’s shown flashes that he can really help us in the future,” Buddy said.
When Jim Boeheim was asked if Edwards was capable of this kind of play in the beginning of the season, he grew frustrated. He responded sarcastically and clenched to his original assertion.
“He’s still not ready. He’s not ready but he hung in there and battled. They out-rebounded us 20 rebounds. He did some good things. But, you know, he’s got to get stronger. If he was ready early in the year he would’ve been playing early in the year,” Boeheim said.