Allie Berube | Video EditorWomen's Basketball
Syracuse survives toughest test of season with win over DePaul
With just more than a minute left, Carmen Tyson-Thomas received the ball after an inbounds pass and dribbled down the court as the shot clock wound down. With Syracuse clinging to a one-point lead, making the most of the possession was imperative.
Forced into a hurried 3-point attempt just before the clock expired, Tyson-Thomas couldn’t get the shot to fall. But Kayla Alexander was well positioned to grab the rebound, leading to a second-chance bucket for Tyson-Thomas that expanded Syracuse’s lead to three.
The crucial rebound and subsequent basket helped the Orange come away with a tight 84-80 victory over DePaul (13-5, 2-2 Big East) in front of 450 fans in the Carrier Dome Tuesday. The win, SU’s eighth in a row, moves Syracuse to 15-1 on the season, 3-0 in conference play heading into Saturday afternoon’s matchup with perennial powerhouse Connecticut.
“Our team just keeps fighting,” SU head coach Quentin Hillsman said. “We see that fight as we go into these games. They just continue to compete.”
Watch: Hillsman, players discuss Syracuse’s win over the Blue Demons
Before Tuesday night, the first seven games of Syracuse’s winning streak were all won by 13 points or more. Aside from close battles with future Atlantic Coast Conference rivals Georgia Tech and Virginia in November’s San Juan Shootout, the Orange hadn’t had a true down-to-the-wire test.
That changed Tuesday. DePaul showed poise early on the road, taking advantage of SU’s soft-perimeter defense to shoot 8-for-18 from 3-point range in the first half. DePaul’s fast-paced offensive attack kept the Orange on its heels as the Blue Demons led 46-40 at the break.
Syracuse responded immediately after halftime with a 7-0 run, taking a 47-46 lead. But DePaul refused to go away. During the middle of the second half, many SU possessions lasted less than 15 seconds with players taking and missing quick shots. DePaul took a 65-59 lead with less than 10 minutes to play.
“We got some open shots off initial catches,” Hillsman said. “They might not have been the shot that we wanted on that possession, but it’s tough to tell your team to not take open shots.”
Despite the lack of experience in close games this season, SU has an abundance of veteran leadership, and it came through at the end. Along with critical plays by seniors Tyson-Thomas and Alexander down the stretch, junior Rachel Coffey stepped up with two free throws to put the Orange up 83-78 with 32 seconds left.
After a DePaul basket made the score 83-80 with 16 seconds left, Tyson-Thomas was fouled and made it a two-possession game with a free throw with 10 seconds remaining. After going 2-for-6 from the line in the first half, the Orange responded with a 19-for-24 effort after the break. For the game, Alexander and Elashier Hall combined to go 11-for-14 from the line.
“I think you just have to adjust when it’s close,” Coffey said. “Even in blowouts, you have to play like it’s close. …We’ve kind of all been in every situation.”
With the win, the Orange has now tied the best start in program history, as well as its best Big East start. Syracuse’s only loss so far is to Temple, a 74-67 decision Dec. 2.
It doesn’t get any easier for SU this weekend. Syracuse travels to No. 3 Connecticut, but the team is looking forward to the challenge. Coming off of a 30-point-blowout win over Georgetown Saturday, which snapped a seven-game losing streak to the Hoyas, the Orange showed Tuesday that it could come away with a narrow victory when things get tight.
The poise under pressure should serve the team well down the stretch, Hillsman said.
“They’re hard-nosed kids,” Hillsman said. “They play for a coach who just keeps pushing them and keeps pushing them, because I know the toughest team will always win. I give them a lot of credit, and I’m just really happy to be where we are right now.”
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