After a Five Game Win Streak, Syracuse Drops Two Tough Road Games With Postseason Looming

Friday, Feb 28, 2020 at 2:19 pm by Sports Editor

Chris Sacchi

Syracuse Women’s Basketball Beat Reporter

With one final home game before the ACC tournament, suddenly, the Orange have gone from trying to extend a winning streak, to preventing a three-game skid to end the regular season.

Losses at Notre Dame (72-70 on February 23rd) and No. 8 NC State (69-60 on February 27th) pumped the brakes on the momentum of a five-game win-streak and put things back into a perspective that more closely matches the reality of this season.

Syracuse currently slots in at eighth place in the 15 team ACC at 15-13 overall and 9-8 in ACC play. Despite two top-five wins over then No. 8 Florida State and No. 5 Louisville, is there enough quality to grant this team a tournament bid?

While the answer to the ultimate question may become more clear after the ACC tournament, which begins on March 4th, it would have been harder to say no if SU had pulled off one, if not both, of these road wins.

The Orange entered Sunday’s match at Purcell Pavilion in South Bend with exactly zero career wins at Notre Dame. After being down as much as 16 points after the first quarter and eight at the end of the third, SU came up just short in a 72-70 loss.

The issues in that game were eerily similar to the shortcomings in the nine-point loss in Raleigh, North Carolina. A defense that is good, but not quite effective enough to make up for a mostly inefficient offense, and not enough rebounds to allow a possessions advantage to cancel those other two factors out.

Let’s start with the defense. While Notre Dame and NC State both committed 18 turnovers, the two teams combined to shoot 45% from the field. Forcing opponent turnovers was instrumental during the win streak, and while it has continued these past two games, it was not enough to compensate for the lack of interior protection. The Fighting Irish attacked inside to the tune of 34 points in the paint, while the Wolfpack were not far behind with 28 point paints of its own.

Meanwhile, on the offensive end, the lack of three-point production has stuck out like a sore thumb. SU combined to shoot an unsightly 14 for 59 from deep, translating to a 24% mark. Percentages like that will not get the job done in front of loud, forceful crowds on the road, especially in-conference.

Kiara Lewis puts the finishing touches on a fantastic season, averaging 22 points per game over these last two. Yet all season long, the Orange have been looking for a consistent number two scorer to take the defensive pressure off of her. Gabby Cooper and Digna Strautmaen scored 17 and 10, respectively, in the loss to the fighting Irish. However, those two upperclassmen were among all but one player (Maeva Djaldi-Tabdi, with ten points) who failed to get into double figures against NC State.

While Syracuse lost the rebounding margin by only three in the Notre Dame loss, those three boards could have made the difference in a game that was so close it went down to the final buzzer; a missed three from Lewis and an unsuccessful putback from Cooper. It is no question, however, that the minus-17 (46 to 29) rebound deficit in the NC State game made it very difficult for an Orange win.

Another significant development in the NC State loss was an injury suffered by freshman guard Teisha Hyman. Hyman went down and clutched her right knee with 3:19 left in the third quarter. She needed assistance from the SU medial staff to get off the court and put very little weight on her right side.

“She’s in good spirits, but you just don’t know,” Coach Quentin Hillsman said postgame to ESPN Radio Syracuse’s Brian Higgins. “It doesn’t look good when you go down like that.”

Hyman had been averaging 7.4 points per game in 17.8 minutes as a freshman, along with a .429 clip from beyond the arc. She earned the trust of Hillsman to be one of the first players off the bench for each game. There is likely to be a better idea as to the condition of Hyman’s right knee when the team gets back to Syracuse. Hyman tore her left ACL during her sophomore season of high school.

After a momentum-halting two-game road losing skid, the Orange return home to host the final game in the pre-renovated Dome. Tipoff between Syracuse and Boston College is set for 4:00 pm. After that game, Syracuse will forge ahead to the ACC tournament in Greensboro, North Carolina, and will play one of the mid-seeded matchups that are currently slated for Thursday. Follow @CitrusTVSports on twitter for news, updates, and live game coverage for Sunday and throughout the postseason. | @SachChristopher