Junior forward Kessler Edwards grips the rim after a second-half dunk versus the University of the Pacific on Jan. 21 in Firestone Fieldhouse. Edwards scored a career–high 37 points in a Waves win. Photos by Ali Levens
Edwards dropped a game-high 37 points and 11 rebounds, surpassing his previous career high of 30 points and leading the Waves to an 85-68 defeat of the Tigers in the Firestone Fieldhouse. The junior forward also eclipsed the 1,000-point career scoring mark.
Edwards clinched the WCC honor by notching another double-double in the Waves’ other game of the week, a road loss to BYU on Saturday.
“This was a game that we really needed to win,” Edwards said. “I try to start off every game being aggressive, looking for the right spots. My teammates just helped me, finding me in the right spots and encouraging me to shoot the ball with confidence.”
Edwards connected on six three-pointers, including this four-point play to pass the 30-point mark, and gave the team a 70-36 lead with more than 10 minutes remaining.
VIDEO: 🚨Career high🚨
With this four-point play (he made the free throw), junior forward @KesslerEdwards has a new career high of 34 points and counting.@PeppBasketball 70
Under 10 minutes to go pic.twitter.com/0pgrhiQNQP
— Pepperdine Graphic (@PeppGraphic) January 22, 2021
Junior guard Darryl Polk Jr., contributed 11 points and 4 rebounds off the bench, the only other Wave in double figures. Polk Jr. deflected praise to Edwards, who was “feeling it.”
“Today was his night, and you see what happens when he shoots it and he’s confident in his game,” Polk Jr. said. “We’re all confident in him and know he can do it, game in and game out.”
Following Saturday’s game, Edwards leads the team in scoring (18.3 points per game), rebounding (6.7 per game) and blocks (1.4 per game). Head Coach Lorenzo Romar provided a humorous explanation for Edwards’ development into a high-scoring threat — his brother Kameron Edwards‘ graduation.
“He’s an upperclassman and his big brother’s not around anymore,” Romar said. “Sometimes he would defer to his big brother. He’s just come out playing with a lot of confidence this year.”
In a lightning-fast start to the game, Pepperdine went on a 21-2 run to take a massive early lead.
The game was not as close as the 17-point final margin, as the Waves led by 24 at halftime and as many as 35 in the second half.
“I didn’t like the way we finished the game, but we’re not going to let that take away from the other 32 minutes,” Romar said. “Pacific is a team that has given us problems over the last three years. Tonight, we were able to play a really good basketball game.”
A stifling Pepperdine defense sparked the early lead, as the Waves forced 12 Pacific turnovers in the first 15 minutes of the game.
Polk Jr., said the aggressive defensive effort and “doing the little things” translated into the big first-half lead.
“I felt like we did a really good job of staying in front of our guys and making them force tough shots,” Polk Jr., said. “Tough shots always equal transition points.”
Romar credited the Waves’ passing and defense early in the game, as 16 of the Waves’ first 17 made field goals came off of an assist, seven of those from senior point guard Colbey Ross.
“When people talk about team basketball, a lot of times they refer to the offensive side,” Romar said. “Well, team basketball is played on the defensive side also.”
Edwards, now recovered from a sternum bruise, had six rebounds in the first half, leading a 22-13 Pepperdine rebounding advantage at the break.
“We knew that Pacific was an outstanding rebounding team going into it, so that was one of our main keys, just getting guys on the offensive glass, and making sure that we put a body on everybody on defense,” Edwards said.
The Pepperdine bench contributed 30 points in the game, as 11 Waves took the court. Edwards spoke postgame about the value of the bench bringing a spark in an empty gym.
“It’s something that starts in practice — having high-intensity, good-energy practices,” Edwards said. “And then, as the guys call it, ‘create our own energy,’ starting in warmups and our bench mob getting everybody engaged throughout the game.”
Unfortunately for Pacific, which entered the game 5-1 on the season, the outcome was not in doubt in the final 10 minutes.
The Waves traveled to play BYU next, a team that beat them by an average of 22 points the previous season.
“BYU is always going to be a veteran team,” Romar said. “They have tremendous size. They play with two 6’10” or seven-footers on the floor at all times, and they shoot the basketball really well, so we’re going to have a big challenge for ourselves.”
Pepperdine played the Cougars more closely than either of its 2020 matchups, going on a late 12-0 run to pull within four points, but eventually falling 65-54.
It was a cold-shooting night in frigid Provo, Utah, as Pepperdine held BYU to 38% shooting from the field but only shot 29% themselves. Ross got back to his high-scoring ways in the Marriott Center, dropping 21 points.
The Waves, now 2-2 in WCC play, have a second chance against BYU on Jan. 27 prior to a rematch with No. 1 Gonzaga on Jan. 30, both in Malibu.
“These are games that we’re going to have to be able to be successful if we want to finish at the top of this conference,” Romar said.
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Contact Karl Winter via Twitter: @karlwinter23 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org