Orange Win Offensive Battle Against Houston, 86-63
By Toni Bianco
CitrusTV Women’s Basketball Beat Reporter
Victoria, B.C.- When the halftime break rolled around in Victoria, British Columbia, officials and coaches gathered around the scoring table. All parties were unsure of the official score in what was just a six-point game at the time. But, the scoring controversy ultimately wouldn’t matter as Syracuse broke away in the third quarter and never looked back.
No. 18 Syracuse (4-1, 0-0 Atlantic Coast) pulled away to top Houston (4-3, 0-0 American Athletic) 86-63 on Thursday in the first meeting between the two teams. The Orange traveled across the border to British Columbia, Canada, for the Greater Victoria Invitational. The team would spend Thanksgiving on the court instead of the dinner table. Syracuse has quite a bit to be thankful for this holiday, specifically, the third quarter of this contest.
There was a bit of deja vu as Syracuse turned the tables on Houston after Oregon’s explosive third quarter against SU less than a week ago. This time it was the Orange who had a big second half- dominating inside the paint and controlling the rim. Syracuse has struggled to finish at the rim through its first four contests, but Amaya Finklea-Guity and Maeva Djaldi-Tabdi contributed 25 combined points, nine and 16, respectively. On the boards, it was a team effort, with Emily Engstler leading the way for the Cuse with 15 rebounds.
Engstler is becoming a double-double machine, recording her third of the season. The sophomore seems to be finding her stride within the rhythm of this Syracuse team on both ends of the floor. Engstler shot five-of-eight from the field and three-of-five from behind
the arc in the Thursday night contest.
The Orange scored ten points, eight of them at the rim, during a four-minute scoring drought for the Cougars midway through the third frame. Through 20 minutes, Houston was 6-12 from deep, shooting the lights out from three. But the Cougars offense crumbled as Syracuse took control of the game, shooting just 20% from three and 30% from the field.
Back-to-back threes from Djaldi-Tabdi and Engstler put SU up by 23 with eight minutes to play, but the Orange would be even more electric inside the paint. Syracuse shot over 50% from the field in both halves and shot 15-29 in field goals in the second half.
Kiara Lewis led the scoring for Syracuse with 17 points, nearly notching a triple-double with nine rebounds and eight assists. SU guards were able to dump the ball into the post, thanks to Finklea-Guity and Djaldi-Tabdi both doing an excellent job of bodying up their defenders. The Orange guards also did an excellent job of creating opportunities by driving the paint to draw defenders, hitting the kick out on the wing for a shot.
Four players recorded 14 or more points in what became a season-best shooting performance for Syracuse. Lewis had 17, Djaldi-Tabdi notched 16, and Gabby Cooper and Engslter both added 14.
Coach Hillsman started to pull starters and major bench players late in the third quarter, likely to preserve legs for the next game in this invitational, which gets going just about 24 hours from the final buzzer. Whisper Fisher, Taleah Washington, Alisha Lewis, and Brooke Alexander all saw court action late into the contest.
The Orange will likely face No. 3 Stanford in the second round of the Greater Victoria Invitational. The ‘Cuse is set to play the winner of the Stanford and Cal Baptist contest, which takes place after SU’s game on Thursday night. The Cardinal’s are the heavy favorite in that match up, and if the No. 3 school does what they are supposed to against Cal Baptist, it will be Syracuse’s second top-three opponent in less than a week, as well as the first-ever meeting between the two teams. The winners’ bracket contest will tip-off at 10:30 pm EST on Friday.
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