Spencer Bodian | Staff PhotographerWomen's Basketball
Undefeated at home, Syracuse hosts Rutgers
Breaking out of the locker room for Saturday afternoon’s matchup with Pittsburgh, Syracuse donned a new look. In SU’s annual “Play 4Kay” game in support of breast cancer awareness, all of the Syracuse players sported pink jerseys for the cause.
The color change from the traditional orange didn’t appear to affect SU’s play in the slightest in an 80-39 rout of the Panthers. Not much has affected the team’s play at home this season. The Orange (21-3, 9-2 Big East) carries an unblemished 11-0 home mark into its final regular season conference matchup with Rutgers (14-10, 5-6) at 7 p.m. at the Carrier Dome.
“We love playing at home in front of our home crowd,” senior center Kayla Alexander said. “They give us energy, and it’s also important to protect the home court as well, especially during conference play.”
Syracuse has already completed one home-and-home series this season against rival Georgetown, with the home-court advantage apparent. At Georgetown on Feb. 12, Syracuse needed to battle back from an eight-point, second-half deficit to escape with a 69-60 victory. At home on Jan. 12, SU led at the half and notched a 52-point second half in a comfortable 86-56 win.
After completing an undefeated two-game road swing against Cincinnati and Georgetown, in front of crowds of 535 and 609 respectively, the Orange returned home to play Pitt in front of 1,355, SU’s largest home crowd of the season to date. Tipoff approached and the crowd started to clap, as it does at the beginning of every men’s game.
The fans continued their rhythmic clap until the 18:02 mark, when freshman guard Brianna Butler drained a 3-point shot to break the scoreless tie. SU jumped out to a 7-0 advantage, and the game was never really close.
“It’s good to be home,” seventh-year head coach Quentin Hillsman said. “Obviously the crowds are good, and even when the crowds aren’t really large, they’re always into it. I think that helps us a lot.”
Syracuse has proved effective at home, even when the crowds are sparse, as Hillsman alluded. Against Seton Hall on Jan. 30, the Orange cruised to a 65-34 win with a crowd of just 490. Facing DePaul on Jan. 15, Syracuse made big plays down the stretch to earn an important 84-80 win against the dangerous Blue Demons in front of a crowd of 450.
Five of the six largest crowds SU has seen this year have occurred on the road with the Orange going 3-2, losing to Connecticut in front of 14,786 and Villanova in front of 1,519.
But with the Orange enjoying a prosperous 21-3 start and positioning itself well for its first NCAA Tournament bid in five years, the fans are starting to come out. Syracuse’s last two home games have brought its two largest crowds of the year, looking strong in comparison to the weak road turnouts at Cincinnati and Georgetown.
“We have been to some gyms and there’s nobody there,” Hillsman said. “We’re in an arena, and people are there, and you can hear them. So for us, it’s important, and it says a lot about our fan base and our team.”
The Dome’s unique basketball arrangement, without completely enclosed seating around the court, differs from the traditional gym environment for most Big East teams.
But with 11 games down on the Dome court, SU is comfortable with the setup and embraces it, Hillsman said.
“For us, we’re good, so we just come out and play,” Hillsman said. “This is our home court. We love it here, we shoot well here and we score the ball here at a good rate. So I’m really happy with playing here.”
At the conclusion of Saturday’s rout of Pittsburgh, junior guard Phylesha Bullard took the microphone and thanked the fans for coming out to support the team, saying she hoped to see them again. The crowd gave one last cheer before filing out.
Although the pink jerseys provided something different, Saturday brought more of the same for the Orange at home, an enthusiastic crowd and a winning effort on the court.
Junior guard La’Shay Taft, who posted a season-high 11 points against the Panthers, said she wouldn’t mind seeing the pink again soon.
“I think it’s amazing,” Taft said. “I think pink is pretty also, so I think it was good; it felt good wearing pink. I wish I could wear it more.”
“She loves pink,” Alexander added.
Contact Kevin: email@example.com
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