January 14, 2015
SYRACUSE, N.Y. – If your leader goes down early it usually spells trouble. Victory will often leave your grasp immediately, with only defeat to follow. On some occasions though, you can defy the odds.
Tonight the Syracuse Orange women’s basketball team played the hand they were dealt and earned their third ACC win of the season, 71-48 over Pittsburgh. This result came after losing point guard, leading scorer and floor general, Alexis Peterson. She played only one minute and logged no statistics in just a small handful of trips down the floor, as she exited due to an illness.
“She (Peterson) did not come to shoot-around today,” said Head Coach Quentin Hillsman. “She said she was going to try, then tried it but couldn’t go. Give her credit for at least coming, warming up and trying.”
Peterson’s absence was certainly no small loss for the ‘Cuse. Heading into the game, she was averaging 14.9 ppg., 5.6 assists per game in 32.4 minutes. Like the quarterback in football, having your court general out can be a huge blow to the team. But, the versatile Cornelia Fondren made sure that losing the key ingredient would not destroy the entire meal.
“We had ‘Corn’ (Cornelia) step in and play the point guard position for 36 minutes,” Hillsman said. “That’s so critical for us and I can’t stop praising that kid tonight, because she’s done everything I have asked her to do since the day she got here.”
Hillsman’s high praise is a reflection of the way Fondren feasted on the stat sheet tonight. Her 11 points, eight rebounds, five assists and two steals displayed the complete stamp she had on the entire game. A lift such as that from a non-starter speaks even more volumes to the depth that this Syracuse team has.
“It feels good, but at the same time we still need our point guard (Peterson),” said Fondren. “I think we all needed to step up our game up, not just myself.”
Togetherness is hard to teach at any point in the season, but the Orange really play as a unit and display a genuine care for each other. That care translates statistically and more importantly into victories. Syracuse banded together gathering 20 steals en route to forcing 26 Pittsburgh turnovers. Although the rebounding battle was tied at the end of regulation 46-46, the 18 offensive rebounds kept possessions alive for SU leading to 32 points in the paint, 19 of which came in second chance opportunities.
Commanding the ball is critical and Briana Day proved that with her double-double, 15 points and 10 rebounds. This was Day’s third double-double of the season and 19 through her junior year in orange. As she read the stat sheet to the media after the game, it is easy to see that she understands the importance of winning various aspects of the game such as rebounding and turnovers.
Maggie Morrison again recorded critical minutes as her time on the floor continues to rise. Both against Virginia Tech (21) and tonight versus Pittsburgh (29), she has seen her overall season average rise to 13.6 per game, but 19.8 in the last four games. Again Morrison made the most of her time on the floor with 12 points, five rebounds and two steals.
“I think I have stepped into my role and have accepted it,” said Morrison. “I think everyone on this team has accepted their role and that’s why we are so dangerous. I just try to make a difference on the court and play with energy.”
Contributions by Morrison and the rest of the supporting cast are of great value to Coach Hillsman as he looks ahead to the remainder of the season. Realizing how important depth can be when your top player leaves the game, or even to wear down future ACC opponents.
“I think it is critical,” Hillsman said. “Obviously if you were in a situation now with this roster and it was depleted, then you have a problem tonight. But, we have players that can get up and down the floor and play multiple positions.”
Syracuse will need that health and versatility with a two game stretch coming up on the road at Wake Forest (1/17, 2:00 p.m.) and then at #3 Notre Dame (1/21, 7:00 p.m. ESPN3). The Demon Deacons are near the bottom of the league (9-8 overall, 0-4 ACC), but national power Notre Dame is undefeated in conference (5-0, first place) with an overall record of 16-1. That one loss came to #1 Connecticut (91-81) in early December. The Orange will be battled tested all season, but additional upcoming games with other ranked ACC foes such as #23/22 Louisville and #21/20 Miami will certainly prove their mettle.
Taking care of home court is important, but the remainder of the ACC gauntlet awaits.