Attempting to shoot over Paschal Chukwu is not a good idea.
The 7’2” junior demonstrated as much in Syracuse’s 74-50 win over the Oakland Golden Grizzlies. Recording eight blocked shots, seven defensive rebounds, and two steals, Chukwu dominated the paint for much of the night.
“Going into every game, I try and block everything,” Chukwu said. “Sometimes [opponents] have to change their shot, which is what we want, or I get the block.”
Chukwu’s defensive efforts did not go unnoticed by Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim, as the Orange struggled in the center position in the 2016-17 season.
“This is what we missed last year. [Chukwu] can control the middle of the court like that. It’s just such a difference,” Boeheim said. “Because his defense was so good inside, he changed the whole game. He got some offensive things tonight, and we looked for him a little bit better.”
Chukwu did find himself in early foul trouble. He was called for an illegal screen twice in the first half, which appeared to frustrate Boeheim. But Chukwu settled down and played mistake free during the second half, continuing his defensive dominance.
“Coach called the right plays, and I was in the right position and went for every block that I could,” Chukwu said. “I missed one rebound in the beginning and Coach got on my back that I needed to step my game up and I did.”
The matchup against Oakland also gave Chukwu an opportunity to demonstrate his offensive capabilities. Slamming the ball home four times, Chukwu made his presence felt and finished the night with a career-high 12 points. Combined with four offensive boards for a total of 11 rebounds on the night, it was the first double-double of Chukwu’s career.
“I was really excited out there. I know [Chukwu] can do that every night,” guard Tyus Battle said. “He blocks shots, he gets put back dunks. He’s been doing that since the summertime, and he’s improved a lot this year.”
The game was something of a coming out party for Chukwu who has experienced limited playing time during his career at Syracuse. Sidelined for a season after transferring from Providence, Chukwu also missed most of last with an eye injury.
“He’s still in the beginning of his career,” Boeheim said. “He’s been in college for three years and hasn’t played. Now he’s only had four games, and he’s literally a freshman in terms of his playing experience. It takes time.”
Over the past four games, Chukwu has started to come into his own, gaining confidence as his playing time increases. As he gains more experience on the court, Chukwu looks to improve as a player and as a teammate.
“Compared to the first game, this was a huge jump,” Chukwu said. “I’m getting more comfortable. I haven’t really played in a while, and it’s all about getting back in a groove… It’s all about playing in more games with my teammates, so they trust me in game-time situations.”
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