Syracuse Orange men’s basketball guard Kyle Cuffe Jr. learned early on what his role would be in his first year back on the court. On a team with multiple guards who can score the ball at a high level, Cuffe knew his duty would be to come in off the bench and gets defensive stops. He rounds out a formidable Syracuse bench contingent that’s asked to come into the game and bring energy and intensity, but Cuffe’s primary focus is different from the other bench players.
“I learned my role early on is just going to be on that defensive side,” Cuffe said. “Whatever I can get on the offensive side I’m going to get. Yeah, I’m going to be aggressive and start being a little bit more aggressive. But really just locking in on that defensive side and making sure that I guard.”
Cuffe has come off the bench and played aggressive in multiple games. He scored on a nice left-handed drive on his first offensive possession against Florida State. In a neutral court game against Oregon he came out with two important threes and a drive. He hit a tough shot in the lane at Pittsburgh in the early going. But really, he focuses on defense while scrapping on offense.
In crunch time of the Miami game, 6-foot-8 guard Kyshawn George had scored two straight effortless drives for the Hurricanes without much resistance. Adrian Autry, who has referred to Cuffe as a “bulldog” this season, inserted the Harlem native into the game late to guard George. He’d somehow bank in a three with Syracuse switching the ball screen on the first possession, but George didn’t have the mismatch on the next offensive possession, which forced one final Miami miss from Harlond Beverly. It was a critical stretch that set up the Quadir Copeland game-winner. Autry went offense-defense down the stretch of a close game with Cuffe trusted to defend.
Against Florida State, Cuffe had a strong first half and put pressure on Florida State’s defense by getting to the rim and drawing three fouls. But Cuffe was also drawn the unenviable assignment of defending the 6-foot-7 Jamir Watkins, Florida State’s leading scorer.
“Second half I feel like I let them get the momentum,” Cuffe said. “Two plays that Watkins got downhill, I fouled him. They scored. They saw daylight after that. I take the L on my end. I just gotta lock in, watch film.”
In the preseason, Cuffe talked of his decision to transfer to Syracuse and maturely elaborated on things like holding himself and others accountable. He was willing to do that after the FSU loss, perhaps taking more than the fair share of blame. But in those conversations Cuffe also talked about playing closer to home.
Cuffe redshirted his first year at Kansas before going down with both MCL and PCL tears that sidelined him for a second season with the Jayhawks. He saw his parents just twice in those two years. Since transferring closer to home he’s seeing family a little more frequently these days, enjoying his time at SU.
“I love it,” Cuffe said of his time at Syracuse. “I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
Cuffe will still have three years of eligibility after this season ends. He’s appeared in all 19 games for Syracuse, willing to listen to the coaching staff and guard who the team needs. His mom Keia and dad, Kyle Cuffe Sr., will be in attendance Saturday as Syracuse hosts NC State. His three sisters, Devyn, Kely and Karter, will also be there. Cuffe is grateful for that.
“I came here for a reason after not playing for two years. Coach Autry gave me that opportunity,” Cuffe shared. “So I thank God for that.”