SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- When Syracuse Women's basketball head coach Quentin Hillsman assembled his team’s schedule for this season he knew it would be one of the toughest months the Orange women would face in program history.
“Coming into the season we knew this was a date for this challenge game and we could’ve scheduled a little bit softer on the front end, but it’s not what I wanted to do,” Hillsman said. “I don’t want to give our program and our players and ourselves a false sense of reality by playing a soft schedule early.
"And then get into the conference and kind of get shell shocked and get blasted by our first opponent in the ACC because this is the toughest conference in the country.”
No.20 Syracuse (5-3) accepted its coach’s challenge, defeating Michigan State (6-2), 75-64, in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Wednesday at the Carrier Dome.
"That was done purposely,” Hillsman said. “And our kids really responded today with a big win."
Alexis Peterson dominated on both ends of the floor, scoring 28 points and had five steals. Brittney Sykes finished with 15 points, 10 of which came in the second half, after sitting down for most of the first half with foul trouble.
It was a much-needed win for the Orange women after dropping three of their last four games.
“This is a bounce back game that we had to have this game,” Hillsman said. “Coming forward into this game, that’s all we talked about. We needed to win. And our kids came out and really played with a lot of effort, played with a lot of intensity. That’s what we were missing in our game against DePaul.”
After a back-and-forth first quarter, Syracuse stunted Michigan State’s offense in the second half with its tenacious press. The Orange women limited Michigan State to just eight points, outscoring the Spartans 20-8, and used an 11-0 run to end the quarter to take a 40-22 lead into halftime.
“We worked on [the press] for two days so it was disappointing how we handled it in the first half because I think once you get over it it’s pick your shots,” Michigan state head coach Suzy Merchant said.
In the first half, Syracuse contained Michigan State’s leading scorer, Tori Jankoska, to just four points and forced the [guard] to sit with foul trouble.
In the third quarter, Janksoska’s (21 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists) seven points led Michigan State’s comeback. The Spartans opened the second half on a 6-0 run, cutting Syracuse’s lead down to 12. However, the Orange women responded to the run to hold a 14-point lead after 30 minutes of playing time.
Despite a being undersized, Syracuse managed to scored 48 points in the paint. Against the bigger Michigan State, Briana Day (12 points, seven rebounds) was successful against the Spartans bigger post players.
“When you have bigger post opponents like that you just got to move your feet and use your quickness to your advantage,” Day said. “So, that’s what we talked about in my post position, just using our advantage and being physical and matching their physicality.”
The Orange Women will be back at the Dome on Sunday for a non-conference matchup against Central Connecticut State. Tipoff is at 2 p.m.