Maybe you watched Georgia lose to Dayton on Monday and thought, “Anthony Edwards had six points and his team lost by 19 — what’s the big deal?” Maybe you watched the first half of today’s game with Michigan State and thought, “He’s got four points and his team’s down 21 — THIS is a superstar?”
Maybe you watched the second half. Maybe then you shut up.
There’s a reason Ant Man was the nation’s No. 1 recruit. There’s a reason he could go No. 1 in the 2020 NBA draft. He’s gifted and skilled, and he knows how to play. (That’s not to say he knows it all. He’s 18.) Georgia flew to Maui off a 4-0 start and a solid win over Georgia Tech, but it hadn’t played — unless you count an exhibition in Charlotte, which we won’t — away from Stegeman Coliseum, and it hadn’t faced an opponent of Top 25 worth. Now it has.
Dayton is very nice Atlantic 10 team you’ll be picking to win some games in the Big Dance. Michigan State was the preseason No. 1. The Spartans have had issues — they lost to Virginia Tech in their first Maui game — but they’ll wind up in the Final Four at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (Tom Izzo is great at getting to the Final Four; he’s less good at winning it.) These two games over 26 hours were steps up in class for the Bulldogs, who wound up losing both. But that’s not the story. The Ant Man was.
He scored 33 points in 20 minutes against a program that takes defense seriously. He had two assists of which Magic Johnson — once a Spartan — would be proud. He blocked shots on consecutive trips. He brought Georgia from 28 points down to within two. There’s a chance this college season will produce a better individual performance; there’s also a chance it won’t.
One of Edwards’ 3-pointers — he made seven in the second half — was hoisted in front of Georgia’s bench. An ESPN camera caught Tom Crean’s reaction. The coach who signed the Edwards out of Holy Spirit Prep tried to remain stoic. He failed. He let a smile cross his face. Said Bill Walton, in vintage Maui form: “He’s thinking, ‘We’re going to win a lot of games.’ ”
It’s unclear how good Georgia is. The Bulldogs were no match for Dayton’s precision — there are no one-and-dones among Anthony Grant’s Flyers, but there are tough-minded sophomores and juniors, guard Rodney Chatman of Lithonia among them — and Georgia’s first-half defense against Michigan State was shambolic. Its second-half defense against Tech had been, too. That’s a function of youth. It’s also a function of this “position-less” team.
Georgia lists everyone as a “B”, as opposed to a “G” or an “F.” The “B” stands for “basketball player.” That’s fine in theory, but sometimes it helps to have a shot-blocking “C.” Georgia doesn’t. Tech’s Michael Devoe and Moses Wright took advantage, and Michigan State’s Cassius Winston called every first-half tune. Izzo had apologized for the loss to Virginia Tech, and his team did as you figured: It took out its coach’s wrath on the Bulldogs, who surely didn’t think they’d be seeing the Spartans in the losers’ bracket.
After 13-1/2 minutes, Michigan State led by 20. Barely three minutes into the second half, the margin was 28. With 16:02 remaining, Edwards had totaled 10 points in Maui. He managed twice that many over the next 6:05.
Ordinarily I’m not a huge fan of comebacks that fall short and high-scoring efforts that end in a team loss — neither is Walton, who asked, “What was Edwards doing the first half?” — but this seemed an exception. Edwards has played six collegiate games, and he’d never seen anything like Michigan State. By the second half, it was unclear whether Winston or even Izzo had seen anything like Edwards.
We say yet again: He won’t be a Bulldog beyond March. He won’t score 33 points in every half. (If he does, he’ll break records set by Pete Maravich.) And a 33-point surge that begins when the opponent is way ahead isn’t the same as facing a defense that’s playing every possession as if a national championship is on the line. But Edwards is no way overrated. He’s the biggest talent Georgia has had since Dominique Wilkins, and Dominique Wilkins is in the Hall of Fame.
After the Tech game, Crean said of Edwards: “We haven’t begun to scratch the surface.” The scratching commenced in the second half in the Hawaiian Islands two days before Thanksgiving. Over 16 astonishing minutes, the Ant Man made maybe the greatest collegian ever — Walton, duh — ask his national audience, “Why isn’t Edwards taking every shot?”
Sitting five time zones away, a guy thought to himself, “You know, that’s a fair question.”
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