No. 18 Syracuse sneaks past Virginia, 72-68, in back-and-forth affair

first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ Quentin Hillsman strode out of the tunnel seven minutes before tip off, and with his first step on Jim Boeheim Court he rubbed his head. He slapped his leg and eventually settled back Syracuse’s bench. Seconds before tip, he stood near center court and rolled his neck. As Tiana Mangakahia opened the scoring, he rubbed his forehead again.During the last two weeks, Syracuse has dipped in the AP polls. The Georgia Tech loss was a momentum-breaker to its nine-game winning streak. A home blunder against Miami prompted Hillsman to say that trips for March’s NCAA tournament could still be booked. Then, Kiara Lewis helped SU escape a 10-point deficit against Duke. Virginia, its opponent on Thursday night, offered something that Syracuse hasn’t had in weeks: a chance to blow out lesser talent.No. 18 SU (17-4, 6-2 Atlantic Coast) wasted the opportunity. It let UVA (8-13, 2-6), the second-worst team in the conference, shoot its way within one possession. Syracuse would win, 72-68, in the Carrier Dome, but it wasn’t the decisive result the Orange needed to break their recent stretch of close games. Syracuse’s offense produced less than its season scoring average (78.5), and its defense allotted Virginia more than its per game total (58.0). There were signs of progress — Kadiatou Sissoko’s brief offensive takeover and Emily Engstler’s bounce back performance — that overshadowed the turnovers and poor 3-point shooting.“The game was played at the pace and at the score that Virginia wanted,” Hillsman said, “and we had to speed that game up, and we really couldn’t get it going.”Apparent in slump, SU’s normally-stout offensive margins were skewered. It registered six more shots than UVA, 12 less free throws and five Syracuse players committed multiple turnovers. Only two players cracked double-digit scoring for the Orange, as they barely cemented themselves in the upper-half of the ACC with a shot at No. 3 Louisville in seven nights.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textThe first frame was a mixed bag for the Orange. Their 2-3 zone was active, but they also missed steal opportunities after tipped passes. The Cavaliers deployed a third guard to inbound the ball, Hillsman said, a tendency-breaker that broke SU’s press with multiple passes. Once it crossed half-court, a UVA team that shoots 35.7 percent from the field, managed shots inside.SU’s offense created open looks, too, but it executed in spurts. Open Miranda Drummond 3s fell, and Digna Strautmane fadeaways hit off the backboard. Maeva Djaldi-Tabdi took a charge in her first defensive possession, then committed a three-second violation on the next trip. The French center’s inconsistency persisted through the half.In the second quarter, one of her hook shots fell short and then she fouled Jocelyn Willoughby on the defensive end. Hillsman shook his head and pointed at Drummond, who popped off the bench. Drummond took a few steps and then turned around to ask if she was replacing Djaldi-Tabdi. Hillsman nodded.Corey Henry | Staff PhotographerMeanwhile, as Syracuse didn’t score in the opening two-and-a-half minutes of the second quarter, a Gabrielle Cooper pass was tipped and turned over, so Hillsman looked at reserve guard Isis Young and said, “Gabby.” Then, Drummond didn’t box out, and UVA earned an and-1 and the lead. Hillsman then summoned Sissoko, who then emerged with the first 3-pointer of her career.“This is a game we had to battle,” Hillsman said. “… We got in foul trouble early.”Sissoko followed with four consecutive points and a series of dribble-drives. Though when Sissoko exited — and SU had no true ball-handler on the floor — Syracuse relied on 3-point shooting. But again, the deep ball let them down like it had in previous games.Last week, the Orange slumped through a five-quarter stretch where they hit less than a third of their shots. Against Virginia, Cooper and Drummond each missed an open 3 late in the half. SU was sporadic in its shooting, recording multiple deep balls in the first (three) and third (four) quarters, while ending the second and fourth quarters at a combined 15.3 percent (2-for-13) clip. Hillsman walked into the tunnel at the break with a grimace and adjusted his cufflinks.When Hillsman returned for the third quarter, he sat across from associate head coach Vonn Read with a dry-erase board between them while his team warmed with a five-point advantage. Cooper finished off SU’s first possession of the half with a 3. UVA crawled back.Syracuse ended four possessions with a field goal in the paint and missed thrice. The Cavaliers rode Willoughby as she totaled 25 points, 11 of which came from the foul line. Before UVA could capitalize, a broken play saw each SU player on the court pass the ball before Drummond converted a 3 from the corner.The momentum transferred into defensive pressure. The full-court press tightened and UVA dribbled deep into the shot clock on multiple possessions. A long rebound by Mangakahia led to another Drummond 3, sparking a visitors’ timeout.Virginia stuck around. Brianna Tinsley broke the zone with a 3 as the ball flashed through the high post. Syracuse answered four-straight UVA free throws with a Mangakahia second-chance 3 and carried a four-point lead into the final frame.Hillsman started the fourth quarter by taking off his jacket and walking to his usual perch near half court. He slouched over following a UVA offensive board and layup. The margin hovered around four as the squads traded buckets. The two-guard lineup of Lewis and Mangakahia, paired with Strautmane, Sissoko and Djaldi-Tabdi, scored on its first three possessions.The Orange maintained an edge for more than 34 minutes, but they never cruised, and their largest lead was eight. Hillsman yelled at Djaldi-Tabdi after a made field goal. She spun and lofted one from the low block. He wanted her to get to the basket. A few minutes later, as his team jogged back on defense, he shouted, “More effort!”Mangakahia answered; diving on the floor for loose balls, dribbling through three-defenders and scoring four of SU’s last six points. Virginia utilized a 1-3-1 zone, Mangakahia said, allowing her to charge the open space on the floor. She finished with 16 points in 38 minutes, six more than her season average (31.2 minutes per game). After Willoughby tied the game on a fast-break, second-chance layup with less than 90 seconds left, Mangakahia drove through the lane and swished two free throws.“Tonight I thought we stayed poised,” Mangakahia said. “We didn’t stress or rush. We just played our own game, especially at the end.”In his postgame press conference, Hillsman eventually revealed his team’s initial goal: host an NCAA Tournament game. As Hillsman sat down in front of the microphone, he rubbed his temples. Thursday night was a step, albeit a short one, in the right direction.“We’ll take the ‘W,’ right?” Hillsman said before pausing. “I’m not shocked at the outcome of the game and how close it was.” Comments Published on January 31, 2019 at 9:01 pm Contact Nick: | @nick_a_alvarezlast_img

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