Syracuse defense overpowered by Minnesota in 70-63 loss
Corey Henry | Senior Staff Photgrapher
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With no defenders in blocking distance around her, Syracuse forward Alaysia Styles settled at the top of the key for an easy 3-pointer to give it a 36-32 lead early in the third quarter. But falling back onto defense a few possessions later, Styles was at a disadvantage against Kadiatou Sissoko.
The Gophers set up their offense with Sissoko — who transferred from SU after her freshman season — in the low post on Styles and center Bailey Helgren in the high post with Christianna Carr defending her. After Helgren got the ball up at the left elbow, Sissoko worked her way in front of Styles, calling for the ball. Helgren heaved it to Sissoko as Styles lagged behind her body, scoring with ease to give Minnesota a 40-36 lead.
“They did a really good job of stretching our zone out a little bit,” Syracuse acting head coach Vonn Read said of the loss. “They had some post players sealing in the back which was tough for us to get up the floor.”
Syracuse struggled defensively against a much bigger Minnesota team, falling 70-63 in its second matchup of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament. After going into halftime with a two-point lead, the Orange were unable to stop 27 points from the Gophers in the third quarter. The Orange improved from deep with a 33.3% performance from beyond the arc, after shooting 27.7% on the season heading into the game. But that wasn’t enough as Sissoko finished with 22 points, completely dominating a smaller SU defense.
Early against Minnesota, Syracuse’s speed, something that Read said helps the team on both ends of the court, was nonexistent as Minnesota was able to get free shots after a string of passes. The Gophers hopped out to an 11-6 lead with two 3s from Sarah Scalia, who hit both her shots from the right wing.
After Scalia’s first make, Najé Murray, who was responsible for guarding Scalia in the Orange’s 2-3 zone, was able to get a steal. The ball made its way to Christianna Carr on the fastbreak, cutting Minnesota’s lead to four. Read said that Murray and the rest of the team’s success on getting steals defensively comes from their ability to be “aggressive” and quick on every defensive possession.
“We have players who naturally want to play that way, naturally want to play in the passing lanes and be aggressive,” Read said. “We have to be able to force turnovers and take care of the ball as well.”
Defensively, Syracuse abandoned the press, which helped it defeat Morgan State, forcing its forwards Christianna and Eboni Walker to play defense near the basket. Read said that because of the multitude of guards on the Orange’s roster, the team would play center “by committee” using Walker, Styles and Christianna.
With only one player over 6-foot-1 on Syracuse’s lineup, the Orange had to be strategic defensively against Minnesota’s bigs. Christianna picked up a charge call, embracing contact from Sissoko, but she was called for a blocking foul later in the second quarter. Styles also maintained SU’s aggressive play down low, but she took an elbow from Klarke Sconiers which sidelined her for the rest of the first half.
But at the start of the third quarter, Styles returned for the Orange, working inside for a midrange jumper which fell. On the next defensive possession, she mimicked Christianna’s play and successfully took a charge on Sissoko before making a 3 at the top of the key to give SU a 36-32 lead.
Still, Syracuse’s size continued to create a defensive disadvantage as Minnesota started to establish its offense in the post. The Gophers went on an 8-0 run, ending it with an easy look from Sissoko in the low post against Styles. Christianna said that the Orange need to improve on stopping runs by making sure they’re not “splintering” when adversity hits, something that Read has preached to the team.
“Our biggest problem is ourselves, just locking in it takes a special team,” Christianna said. “We have the capability but we need to tap into it more.”
Chrislyn agreed with Christianna that Syracuse needed to do a better job of “disrupting” Minnesota’s offense, something it was able to do in wins over Morgan State and Monmouth by stealing the ball. But the Orange were only able to force six steals against the Gophers, almost five less than their season average of 11.5 per game.
“In the tough moments we have to defend better and come together more,” Chrislyn said. “We have to sustain when they go on runs.”
With the defensive struggle, the Orange moved to a full-court press on defense in order to try and get quick steals. Read said that the press was overall successful against the Gophers, specifically at the end of the game as SU tried to claw itself back into the contest. Syracuse improved in its turnover margin, something that Read said is a step in the right direction despite the loss.
“We were able to force 22 turnovers and we only had eight,” Read said. “The last few games we’ve been bringing the turnovers down, we had 20 in our first three games.”
But the Gophers were able to work past the press and continued to find Sissoko open again, freeing her up for seven more points in the third quarter. Murray hit back-to-back 3-pointers from each corner, yet it wasn’t enough to cut Minnesota’s lead as it continued to find openings in Syracuse’s defense.
Minnesota entered the game tied for 126th in the country in attempts from the free throw line, with only 68 attempts so far this season. But the Gophers were able to get to the line with their aggressive play inside, hitting 11-for-12 attempts heading into the fourth quarter. The Orange only went to the line once.
In the fourth quarter, Syracuse continued to struggle on both sides of the court, scoring just 15 points in the final 10 minutes. The Orange got to the line on multiple occasions, but they were unable to stop the Gophers from getting to the line as well.
With three minutes left in the game, Syracuse brought back its full-court press in order to try and get the ball back on offense. But as Murray and Hyman at the top of the zone tried to take the ball away, Scalia was left wide-open in the left corner. Murray retreated to the corner in desperation, but she was too late. Scalia scored and extended the Gophers lead to 11.
“We have to do a better job of finding shooters out in the stretch and knowing who they are getting out to them,” Chrislyn said.
Published on November 21, 2021 at 7:11 pm
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