With Tyler Lydon continuing to shine, Tyus Battle solidly back in the starting lineup, and Tyler Roberson seemingly out of the doghouse, it may have been easy to brush over Taurean Thompson’s performance in Syracuse’s 80-56 win over Cornell. But that would be a mistake.
The freshman forward scored 18 points on 9-15 shooting and grabbed 7 rebounds. He also showed off butterfly-esque footwork in the paint and a deft touch by making shots all over the floor.
“He’s our best low-post player. [It’s] not even close,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “He’s very gifted.”
Thompson has shared his gifts with the Orange all season. Despite a brief slump in late November/early December, he has been in double-digit scoring four of the last five games, averaged 5.7 rebounds during that span, and has added some highlight blocks on defense.
“I’ve always wanted to separate myself,” Thompson said. “[When I was younger I thought] it was a little boring to just be the big guy who could shoot two shots. So, growing up in New York City […] playing pickup in the park it was just something I worked on every day. Ball handling and guard stoppage. For the fun of it.”
And it’s fun watching him. He and Tyler Lydon in particular seem to have developed a connection on the court.
“He’s a great player,” Lydon said. “He’s able to find everyone when [they’re] open and he’s able to be aggressive. He’s a smart player. He’s able to finish and score. Anytime you play with a guy like that he makes everyone better around him.”
But it has not been a completely smooth transition to Syracuse.
Thompson has struggled to adapt to the 2-3 zone; setting up late, biting too hard on the wrong plays, and getting out of position. Boeheim referred to him as “lost out there” on defense.
Knowing how important defense is to Boeheim’s distribution of playing time, this is an area where Thompson has to catch up, and fast.
“After a game like this, even though we won by such a large margin, you still have to look at everything you did wrong,” Thompson said. “You can’t hang your hats on the good stuff you did. Like with me, I don’t [think], ‘Ok I had 12 pts, or 16. I’m good.’ No, I think about ‘I gave up this many points or I missed this shot.’ You just gotta ignore the good stuff and focus on the bad.”
Though it was a tough self-assessment, Thompson is still confident in the team’s potential.
“Growing up you always watch the ACC, like Duke and North Carolina,” Thompson said. “For me to play against them, like North Carolina, at their house? I can’t wait. I’m looking forward to it.”