Syracuse rides Butler, 3-point shooting into game against No. 3 Duke
Svitlana Lymar | Staff Photographer
Brianna Butler dribbled frantically around the perimeter trying to find an open look. With the Orange down four and the final seconds ticking off the clock, Butler’s hot hand was tasked with giving her team life.
She had made two long-range shots to give Syracuse the lead late in the second half. But this time the hounding defense of Myisha Goodwin-Coleman forced a turnover and sealed the win for N.C. State in SU’s Atlantic Coast Conference opener on Sunday.
That was just one game, and one play for Butler. But as has been the case for SU this season, the team has relied on the stroke of its best 3-point shooter.
“It’s huge. It’s everything. When you’ve got a player that can step out and make shots and really give your team a chance, you have a good opportunity,” head coach Quentin Hillsman said. “We’ve just got to really continue to run stuff, to get her looks.”
Butler has stepped up in her sophomore season in a big way, posting 15.8 points per game after averaging just 7.2 as a freshman last year. She notched a career-high 29 points in a win against then-No. 11 Texas A&M on Nov. 30, and scored 20 points in the first half alone against then-No. 24 Arizona State a month later.
On Thursday, though, she might need her best performance to date when Syracuse welcomes No. 3 Duke to the Carrier Dome for a 7 p.m. tip. Hillsman and SU will be relying on Butler’s soft touch, because as Butler has gone this season, so too has Syracuse.
“Making shots is a big thing for any team,” Butler said. “If you have a good shooting percentage that will help any team. I definitely think down the stretch that we need to continue to make shots.”
The 3-point shot has become a bigger part of SU’s offense this season, with the team averaging 23.6 long-range attempts per game compared to 20.8 last season. That is likely due to increased minutes from Butler, who is shooting 39 percent from downtown on more than eight attempts per game.
Hillsman said that Syracuse’s inability to make shots down the stretch in the second half hurt SU when it blew a huge lead against Temple, and proved too much after his team relinquished a 12-point second half lead to Iowa in a 97-91 loss.
“We’re getting good looks in these games, and when you have a spell where you’re dry a little bit, you’ve got to fight through it,” Hillsman said. “And when you look at the game against Temple, we had a little dry spot, and they could have won the game.”
Living by the 3 — and Butler’s outside shot — has both helped and hindered the Orange.
When Butler poured in 20 first half points at ASU, it turned a 6-point deficit into an 8-point lead before halftime. But when she went cold in the second half and scored just five points, Arizona State was able to pull away.
In that Temple game, Butler shot just 4-of-18 from the field. Against Iowa, she was 4-of-16.
But even when a player is having an off night, they never hesitate to shoot.
“Coach has always told us, if you’re open, shoot the open shot,” Brittney Sykes said. “Once you get into conference those open shots that you think you have, they are limited, so when you see them, take them.”
Hillsman echoed that sentiment, saying to always let the shot fly whether it’s Butler or someone else.
Said Hillsman: “When you have an opportunity to take an open shot, you’ve got to take it.”
Published on January 8, 2014 at 4:37 pm