Jesse Edwards left the Syracuse-Louisville game at the 10:30 mark in the second half. He didn’t play the rest of the game.
No, he didn’t foul out. No, Jim Boeheim wasn’t displeased with his performance.
Instead he left to cheers and a standing ovation from the largest Carrier Dome crowd of the basketball season. Edwards pumped up the crowd as he took a seat after a 23-point ACC win.
“It felt amazing,” said Edwards after the game. “I hope it wasn’t a once in a lifetime experience but it was really nice to live in that moment.”
Have a day, Jesse— Syracuse Men’s Basketball (@Cuse_MBB) February 5, 2022
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The moment is continuing to grow for Edwards. Widely regarded as one, if not the most improved player in the ACC, he has shown how much his presence on the floor means to this season’s Syracuse Orange team. It may not seem like it when the Orange has lights out shooters like Buddy Boeheim and Joe Girard, but with Edwards shooting over 70% from the floor, recording double-digit points in 16 games this year, averaging over 6.5 rebounds per game and ranking second in the conference in blocks, he needs to be in games for Syracuse to win.
That’s why fans and coaches were frustrated early on in the ACC schedule when Edwards couldn’t stop fouling. He fouled out of the first five ACC games and in 10 games this season. His efficiency on offense and his shot-altering presence on defense is something that can’t be matched by any other Syracuse player in his position.
However, something has clicked. Edwards hasn’t fouled out in the last five Syracuse games. His presence on the floor has helped in close games like against NC State when the Wolfpack was largely discouraged from going inside to attack Edwards. Simply having the big man available has given Syracuse more opportunities to be more aggressive on both ends of the court.
“I’ve been watching out for fouls more,” said Edwards. “It’s something we’ve looked out for on tape and I think it’s working. It feels a lot better to play more freely.”
Edwards only had one foul against Louisville, and that translated into the free-style of play that he mentioned. It’s not just free - it’s aggressive. That can be especially felt on the offense end, with Syracuse’s new found weapon with Edwards.
Jesse working the pick-and-roll to perfection— Syracuse Men’s Basketball (@Cuse_MBB) February 5, 2022
All of a sudden, Edwards is attacking the rim with intent off his screens. At the beginning of the season, he would set the screen and then set up at his customary position at the low post. Now, Edwards is slashing at the basket with violent intent to score, as he becomes one of the most reliable scoring options in the ACC.
“I’ve improved on rolling faster,” said Edwards. “Once I set the screen and I feel the guy coming off, I’ve got to roll to the rim as fast as I can to make sure I get room and separation.”
What makes Syracuse’s pick-and-roll so effective is the player that receives the screen from Edwards is usually a good shooter, whether it’s Buddy Boeheim, Joe Girard or Cole Swider. That presents a difficult dilemma for opposing defense on who to cover. Do you double the shooter and prevent a clean look at three, leaving Edwards free in the lane? Or do you send someone with Edwards to the rim, leaving either a mismatch or space for the shooter?
Edwards’ aggressiveness coming off the screen has exacerbated that problem for opponents. Early in the season, the Dutch international was still adjusting to his new responsibilities as Syracuse’s primary big man. Now, with Edwards fouling less and attacking the rim, the Orange center has made the turn and transformed his much talked about potential from last season to on-court results.
And now it’s his moment to shine.