Syracuse showed its grit in a tough ACC win against Virginia Monday night, 54-49. The Orange managed to outlast 17 of 81 shooting from the field, and a 17-point deficit, to get its first victory in ACC play.
"That's one of those games where you can lay down and kind of pack it in,” Syracuse Head Coach Quentin Hillsman said. “But they did an amazing job of just being tough.''
Coach Q’s record-tying 229th career victory with the Orange wasn’t pretty – especially from the get go. As is customary in the Carrier Dome, fans stood on their feet until Syracuse scored their first field goal. A little over five minutes into the contest, fans finally got to sit. That’s only because of a media timeout.
Syracuse didn’t score any points until Brittney Sykes made two free throws with 2:07 left in the quarter. By that point it was 16-2 Virginia. Fans were still standing until the Orange got their first field goal on an Abby Grant three with 45 seconds left in the quarter.
"We're a tough team,'' Brittney Sykes said. "It kind of got inside our head and we got a little flustered. But we came back and we battled hard and we showed our toughness.”
The Orange had one of the worst quarters of play in its history, going 1-24 from the field. Meanwhile Virginia hit 7 of its 14 shots in the first quarter.
"It's pretty much like it had a cap on the lid,” Sykes said. “I guess the basketball gods weren't on our side in the first quarter.''
The Cavaliers spread the wealth, with six different players getting on the scoreboard. Syracuse, despite having eleven offensive rebounds in the quarter, could not convert on any second chance points. Virginia led 16-5 after ten minutes of play.
Just like Aliyah Huland El and Lauren Moses got the ball rolling for the Cavaliers in the first quarter with a couple of layups, Moses got things going again to start the second with another one. The Orange played hard and got open looks, but nothing fell. With 8:09 left in the half, Virginia had the 18-6 advantage.
Breyana Mason’s triple and an easy lay in for Felicia Aiyeotan under the basket put the Cavs up 23-6 with 6:05 left in the half. Again, Syracuse was without a field goal for a large portion of the quarter. It wasn’t until the 5:07 mark that the Orange hit their second field goal of the game with a Julia Chandler three-pointer.
At that juncture, Syracuse was 2-33 from the field, and fortunate to only be down by 14 points at 23-9. The Orange’s ability to attack the offensive glass and create turnovers kept them in the contest. After a Gabby Cooper three and a couple of Alexis Peterson free throws, Syracuse was down by eleven with 2:37 left in the half.
Bria Day got the lead to single digits with a pair of free throws with 39 seconds left til halftime. Virginia got the lead back to eleven at 29-18 at the half. Syracuse was 4 of 44 from the field.
“I don't really know how you win a game shooting nine percent in the first half, but we did it, so I guess we got the blueprint for that now,” Hillsman said. “It's an amazing win by our team.”
Syracuse was outscored by eleven after one quarter, but tied Virginia’s output of thirteen points in the second. In the third quarter, Syracuse managed to outscore the Cavaliers by nine.
Alexis Peterson put the team on her back in the third. She was able to get the ball in the lane and get her teammates to the foul line. Peterson got 11 of her game-high 21 points in the quarter, including a three-ball to cut the lead to 33-28 at the 7:09 mark. She hit another with nine seconds left in the quarter to get the lead down to two points at 42-40.
“Coach Q challenged me at halftime,” Alexis Peterson said. “He was upset that I didn't want to shoot any more. My teammates kept their confidence in me.''
Despite the Orange shooting 21 percent from the field for the game, they made 14-16 from the free throw line. They also won the offensive rebound battle 26-6, leading to 13 second-chance points. The Orange forced 27 Cavalier turnovers as well.
Syracuse got its first tie of the game with 8:53 left after a Briana Day layup. 38 seconds later, Alexis Peterson gave the Orange its first lead with a jumper, 44-42.
They led the rest of the way. Peterson led all scorers with 21 points, adding in 8 assists, and 5 steals. Syracuse improves to 1-1 in ACC play, and 10-5 overall. Next up for the Orange is a trip to Clemson on Thursday.
"This was a grow-up moment for our team,” Hillsman said. “This was a time for us to grow up. That's what good teams do.”