SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Sometimes it comes down to who wants it more. Sometimes that can happen in the opening minutes of the game. No matter when it happens, it usually leads to a victory and often a convincing one.
That is exactly what took place today in the Carrier Dome as Syracuse Head Coach Quentin Hillsman recorded his 200th career victory with an 86-50 win over the #12 ranked Duke Blue Devils, to open ACC play. The Orange was a little snake bitten last season, losing 74-72 at Duke. This victory for the Devils allowed them to finish 4th and Syracuse to finish 5th in the final ACC standings. To say that the ‘Cuse had something to prove, would be an understatement.
“This was a great win for our season,” said Hillsman. “There are only so many ranked teams on your schedule and you have to take care of it when you can, and I thought our kids came out and played very well following our game plan.”
The game plan worked to perfection nearly from the opening tip. Syracuse implored a 2-2-1 half court press, dropping back into a match-up 2-3 zone that gave the Blue Devils offense fits all day. Briana Day held down the back line of the zone with four blocked shots and nine rebounds, to go along with four steals at the center position. The Orange had 17 steals and seven blocked shots in the game, which forced 32 Duke turnovers.
But, Maggie Morrison stole the show completely for the ‘Cuse. Her career high 25 points, which was accomplished primarily with 7-12 shooting from the three point line, allowed Syracuse to pull away and never look back. Morrison’s first made three pointer did not come until the 9:57 mark in the second quarter, but the game was still in the balance as Duke tried everything to stay within striking distance throughout the first half.
Syracuse started the game on a 17-3 run, but Morrison’s deadly shooting and five steals sealed the victory almost before halftime. The Orange were just outside the Top 25, receiving votes in both polls, but a definitive rout of a ranked Duke team just outside the Top 10 wouldn’t have seemed as likely.
“We all knew Morrison was a shooter, but not to that extent,” said Duke Head Coach Joanne McCallie. “That was a beautiful game for her; she was the difference maker in the game to be so accurate and so good.”
Coming in, Maggie Morrison was only averaging 12.8 minutes per game off the bench. Coach Hillsman indicated that bench help was going to be needed against Duke, but doubtful he thought that her 16 minutes today would lead to an explosion from three point land off her finger tips. It was like she was playing the video game NBA Jam, and the basket was going to go up in flames each time the ball rotated on its arc into the net.
“Out of body, it was just out of body today,” Morrison said. “It was just one of those days where you’re hot and you just keep shooting. I might have shot one with my eyes closed today.”
“There are so many threats on the floor that sometimes people forget about me,” she said.
Morrison has a knack for the spotlight and also the microphone, as she answers questions with the ease of a 10 year veteran. But, she feels there are times when Syracuse is just “unguardable” with the balance of teammates like Alexis Peterson, Brittney Sykes and Brianna Butler. None of them disappointed either as Peterson went for 17 points and 13 assists, Sykes had 13 points and five rebounds, and Butler nailed some critical deep three pointers ending with 12 points.
It was totally a team effort, even in the shadow of Maggie Morrison’s break out performance. Syracuse took total control from the beginning, as the lead only changed two times before the eight minute mark of the first quarter. A great win in dominating fashion for Quentin Hillsman, as he now sits just 29 victories behind school leader, Barbara Jacobs (229). His .643 win percentage is still tops in SU history.
“Obviously when you receive those milestones, you feel good,” Hillsman said. “It’s all about your players, I haven’t played one possession … all I have done is coached a bunch of talented kids.”
Next up for the Orange (11-3, 1-0 ACC): Away at North Carolina (11-5, 1-0 ACC) on Thursday at 7 p.m. to be broadcast on ESPN3. The Tar Heels are coming off a 72-56 victory over Clemson.