David Pellom was helpless.
Pellom, a junior guard for George Washingon, had just made the mistake of attempting to drive past Syracuse guard Dion Waiters, who poked the ball away as he was driving by. Waiters corralled the loose ball and took off toward the other hoop while Pellom followed close behind.
Waiters had no interest in attempting a layup or a quick shot. Instead, he threw down a vicious tomahawk dunk while Pellom slammed into his body, bringing the Carrier Dome crowd to its feet and a look of frustration across Pellom’s face.
It was the most emphatic of Waiters’ 19 points and six steals, and a microcosm of the day the sophomore had in Syracuse’s lopsided 85-50 win over George Washington.
“He is playing good defense,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “He has the potential to become a really good defensive player and a better offensive player.”
That may be true, but there was little Waiters could do to improve on his stellar night.
Aside from being the only Orange player in double figures, Waiters also shot 8-for-11 from the field, a perfect 3-for-3 from the free throw line, while chipping in five rebounds and four assists in only 21 minutes.
All of Waiters’ six steals led to layups or dunks in transition, helping the Orange shoot 50 percent from the field. It was a welcome offensive performance after SU hovered around 40 percent in its last two games against Florida and Marshall.
“I just played hard and saw the floor well,” Waiters said. “On the defensive end, I just tried to make some steals.”
Aside from Waiters’ slam over Pellom, he also had two other breakaway crowd-pleasing dunks.
“Dion’s dunks were great,” guard Michael Carter-Williams said, “but we see that all of the time out of him.”
On the season, Waiters is the team’s second-leading scorer at 11.9 points per game. It has been a renaissance season for Waiters, who averaged just 6.6 points in 16.3 minutes per game in his freshman year.
But the difference this year has clearly been his defensive prowess. The Orange leads the nation in steals per game at around 12, with Waiters averaging 2.4 a game.
“His defense is the biggest improvement he has made,” Boeheim said. “I think that is the main reason he didn’t get on the court a lot of times last year.”
Corey Mallonee contributed to this report with reporting from Syracuse.