It did not take long for the Syracuse Orange women to take control in their first ever home game in the NCAA Tournament, one that they won 73-56. Behind a 12-0 first quarter run and 13-0 second quarter run, the Orange shot out to a 39-14 halftime lead. Their pressure defense caused the Black Knights all sorts of problems, forcing two 10-second violations in the game's first two minutes.
"We’re just really happy to win the basketball game," head coach Quentin Hillsman said. "That’s the goal in the tournament is to win and advance to the next game and we did that, so I’m really happy for our players. They did a tremendous job at staying solid throughout this entire game."
The Orange defense was fantastic all afternoon, forcing 23 Army turnovers and scored 24 points off them. That proved to be the difference in the game as Army shot only 38.5% from the floor with Syracuse hitting only 33% of their attempts.
Syracuse also controlled the battle of the boards 46-37.
“That’s what we go for, its been working for us all year we knew what types of pressures to run against this team," junior guard Brittney Sykes said. "Credit to Army, they’re a great team its just, we really zoned in on what we needed to do to stop this team to get the lead that we had in the first half, and in the entire game.
"We knew if we got on top of their ball handlers, their one true primary ball handler in Kelsey Minato, we knew if we could lock er down and put the ball in someone else's hands to make big decisions then we knew we would have the upper advantage."
Syracuse cruised in the second half, with Army never getting closer than 12 points. The Knights did make a bit of a push late in the fourth quarter, but the Orange lead was never in real danger.
There was perhaps no more evidence of the dominating Syracuse defense than the stat line for Kelsey Minato, who came into the game as one of the nation's top scorers at 23.6 points per game and over 48% shooting from beyond the three-point arc. She was held scoreless on 0-6 shooting (0-3 from deep) in the first half, turning it over twice.
She finished with just 10 points.
"She is an amazing player and I sat down and watched her this morning and eight games of them playing and every game she just does something that makes you go wow," Hillsman said. "She is a tremendous basketball player and she’s a great passer and you have to worry about the other players hurting you but we did a very good job on her overall defensively.”
Alexis Peterson led Syracuse with 24 points. Brittney Sykes added 13. Brianna Butler struggled, scoring just five points on 2-13 shooting, including 1-11 from three-point range. Cornelia Fondren and Briana Day also reached double figures with 10 and 11 points, respectively.
Army was led by Janae McNeal with 14 points.
The Orange will face the 12th seed Albany on Sunday, who upset Florida in the earlier game on Friday. The game will tip-off at noon and be televised on ESPN2.