Syracuse Wins Statement Game over Florida State
By A.J. Fabbri
CitrusTV Women’s Basketball Beat Reporter
Syracuse has been searching for a signature conference win all season. Make no mistake, the No. 17 Orange have had a great season, their tenth straight with 20 wins.
But in the conference, SU’s most impressive win was over an upstart Clemson team with a coach in her first year back on January 3rd. The Orange had beaten the teams they were supposed to beat, but fell short against the upper echelon of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Syracuse had one last chance for a statement win in its penultimate contest of the regular season, against a Florida State team whose overall resume mirrored SU’s. Both teams came into Thursday night’s game deadlocked at 9-5 in ACC play. Both are slated as five seeds in the NCAA Tournament by a number of bracket pundits. The two have been chasing each other in conference standings all year.
On the back of one of Tiana Mangakahia’s best performances in her SU career, No. 17 Syracuse (21-7, 10-5 ACC) captured a huge road victory over No. 22 Florida (21-7, 9-6) State 94-88 in Tallahassee.
After a 30 point beat down at the hands of No. 4 Notre Dame just three days earlier, Mangakahia was not shaken.
“Losing to them hypes us up more,” she said. “It makes us play these hard teams and compete against the best even more.”
Whether or not she was extra-hyped for the Seminoles, Mangakahia was near perfect. She matched her career high with 44 points, shooting a ridiculous 16 of 20 from the field. 33 of her points came in the second half.
The Orange needed every point they could get, as the game featured 18 ties and 11 lead changes. At one point in the middle of the second quarter, Florida State was shooting 62.5% from the floor. SU topped that, at an even 75%.
While Mangakahia led for SU, the Seminoles featured a three-headed monster. Maryland transfer Kiah Gillespie, guard Nausia Woolfolk and Valencia Myers gave the 2-3 zone fits.
Woolfolk converted a layup after a Gillespie steal to give FSU its largest largest lead of the night at 37-31 with 2:25 left in the first half.
That lead was short-lived.
On Syracuse’s ensuing possession, Mangakahia found a streaking Digna Strautmane for an easy bucket on the other end while the ‘Noles were slow getting back on defense.
After a stop on the defensive end, Mangakahia again caught FSU napping. She fired a cross-court pass to a wide open Kiara Lewis, who drilled her only three point attempt of the game, shrinking the lead to one.
In the second half, the Orange clamped down on defense, building 11-point lead with just seven minutes left in the contest. With some breathing room late, it looked as though SU was going into autopilot until the final buzzer.
But the Seminoles didn’t go away so easily. Gillespie converted a jumper and one, and Nicki Ekhomu followed suit on FSU’s very next possession.
The Orange offense sputtered as Woolfolk went on a personal 7-0 run to tie the game at 79 with 4:17 left. That 11-point lead had disappeared in just over two minutes of play. It seemed as if the gravity of the game was getting to Coach Q’s girls. They had been a few minutes away from their first ACC win over a ranked opponent before, but it slipped right through their fingers.
The decisive bucket came with 1:05 left on the clock. After Gillespie missed a jumper, Strautmane collected the board and found Mangakahia. Sensing a lack of urgency in the FSU’s defense, the point guard pushed the pace. No Seminole turned their head in time until Mangakahia was in the paint.
She threw up a floater as Mo Jones banged into her, and the SU bench erupted when the ball fell through. Mangakahia netted the free throw to give SU an 88-85 lead.
In the end, the ‘Noles were forced to foul, and the Orange converted their free throws. They finished 18 of 20 from the charity stripe after shooting a meager 6 for 15 on Monday night.
In addition to her 44 points and 80% shooting, Mangakahia added eight assists and five rebounds.
Strautmane finished with ten points and six boards, while Lewis added ten on 4 of 5 shooting.
While three point shooting has been their calling card all year, SU shot a season-low nine triples, making four. Ironically, 94 points is SU’s second highest scoring total against an ACC opponent.
The win is SU’s first against an AP-ranked ACC opponent this season.
SU will wrap up the regular season on Sunday in Chestnut Hill against Boston College. Following the game, ACC Tournament seeds will be announced.
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