One short week before Syracuse’s 69-64 win over Villanova on Monday, Syracuse guard Dion Waiters sat helplessly on the bench.
He played just nine minutes and missed all three of his shots — two of which were 3-pointers. Afterward, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim was not pleased with his freshman’s efforts.
“I can’t give him more time than nine minutes until he is more productive,” Boeheim said during his post-game press conference. “This is not a league for freshmen. Not too many freshmen are successful in this league.”
If that wasn’t bad enough, Waiters played a season-low three minutes in the next game against Rutgers. Again, he went scoreless.
Almost out of necessity, Waiters was given another shot to play major minutes against Villanova. With Scoop Jardine playing in foul trouble for much of the game, Waiters played 18 minutes and gave the Orange a lift off of the bench with seven points and four rebounds.
It was the most points he had scored in the last five games.
“Coach said every time I catch the ball, to look to attack,” Waiters said. “So that’s what I tried to do.”
It seemed to work.
There was a marked difference in Waiters style of play. Waiters attempted three free throws, which were three more than he attempted in the last three games.
He also took three shots from inside the arc, equaling the number of two-pointers Waiters had attempted during that same stretch.
“I have a tendency to take too many jump shots,” Waiters said. “I’m better driving. I just have to play aggressive all of the time.”
Of course, Waiters cemented his presence in the game in the closing moments. With Syracuse up 65-62 with 37 seconds left, Waiters seemingly had an open layup to put the game out of reach.
But Isaiah Armwood raced down the floor and fouled Waiters. Waiters missed the front end of a 1-and-1, giving the Wildcats one more chance.
A little more than 20 seconds later, Waiters found himself at the line again after a hard foul (initially called an intentional foul, but it was later reversed), but this time, Syracuse was only up by one point.
Waiters wasn’t going to be denied.
“I just got myself together and said, ‘Come one kid. These are the shots you want to take in a big game like this,'” Waiters said. “Fortunately, I was able to knock them down.”
By sinking both free throws, Waiters helped Syracuse produce one of its signature wins this season. He also may have given himself another chance at solidifying his spot in the rotation as Syracuse finishes its regular season.
“He had a lot of poise and he hit some shots,” Rick Jackson said. “That’s what good players do.”
Brad Bierman contributed to this report.