Syracuse Women’s Basketball Picks Up First Win Over Ranked Opponent in 77-63 Win Over No. 19 Michigan State

Friday, Dec 20, 2019 at 7:55 pm by Sports Editor

By Chris Sacchi

CitrusTV Women’s Basketball Beat Reporter

WINTER PARK, Fla. – Twelve days ago, Syracuse Women’s basketball defeated UMBC 82-48 at home. SU dominated in the second half 44-21, putting the game out of reach early on in the second frame.

Syracuse would then have its longest time off between games all season. Head Coach Quentin Hillsman knew he needed to use those 12 days effectively, with back-to-back games coming against Top 25 opponents.

“We’ve had some tough practices. It’s been really good for us. I think that our team is really grown,” Hillsman told Jack McMullen of Z89 Sports. “I put our team through tough situations and they responded great.”

In the first game of the Florida Sunshine Classic against No. 19 Michigan State (7-3, Big Ten) on Friday, Syracuse (6-4, 0-0 Atlantic Coast) got off to a 27-8 advantage and never relinquished the lead in its 77-63 win. Whether it was the extra practice time or not, SU secured its first win of the season over a ranked opponent.

Syracuse stormed out to that 27-8 lead with 1:23 left in the first quarter after Hillsman elected to go with a full court press, forcing three MSU turnovers. Hillsman’s 2-3 zone also stifled the opposing offense; Michigan State shot only 4 for 17 from the field in the first quarter.

Supplementing the defense in that first frame was some hot shooting from senior guard Gabrielle Cooper. Cooper racked up 11 first quarter points thanks to three made shots from beyond the arc.

Despite a strong first quarter performance, Syracuse turned the ball over nine times. Towards the end of the first, Michigan State also started to feel more comfortable offensively, and these two factors would allow the Spartans to climb back into the game.

In the second quarter, MSU outscored the Orange 17-11. Michigan State hit 7 of 15 shots from the field and were led by top scorer Nia Clouden. Entering the game averaging 15.6 points per game, Clouden exploded for 8 points in the second quarter on 3 of 3 shooting. Her offensive prowess allowed her teammates more space as MSU made it 38-30 going into halftime.

Coming out of halftime, Michigan State picked up right where they left off, continuing their run from the end of the half making it a 10-0 run. Mardrekia Cook’s shot was particularly back-breaking, after SU allowed two offensive rebounds leading to an open three pointer. At 38-35 with 8:31 left in the third quarter, Michigan State fans who made the journey to Florida erupted with noise, filling up Warden Arena with cheers.

Syracuse was able to finally halt the opposing run thanks to great interior play. Emily Engstler, who finished with 13 points and 17 rebounds, got SU back on track with a bucket from the low post to make it 40-35. Maeva Djaldi-Tabdi also stepped up in the paint for the Orange, making two tough layups and converting her attempts from the charity stripe, making both shots at the free throw line twice. After Djaldi-Tabdi’s second made field goal, Syracuse led 47-39 with 4:32 left to play in the third quarter.

With a renewed presence down low, everything else opened up for the Orange, who led by as much as 17 just three minutes later. Gabrielle Cooper and Digna Strautmane also scored inside late in the third, and Djaldi-Tabdi finished with eight of her 16 points in the third quarter.

Entering the final quarter, Syracuse led by a score of 59-46, ten minutes away from the team’s first win over a ranked opponent on the season. However, Syracuse again had to contend with a Michigan State team capable of putting together strong runs of play.

Michigan State pulled it to within just three points, 61-58, with slightly over five minutes left to play. MSU held Syracuse to just 1-8 shooting to begin the fourth, as SU looked fatigued from the full court defense they were employing on the other end.

Enter Kiara Lewis. The Redshirt junior point guard settled down the Orange offensive, getting to the free throw line on back-to-back possessions and allowing her team some time to collect its breath. With 3:34 left, Syracuse led 66-59, and Lewis finished the game with 18 points.

MSU’s Moria Joiner made a tough layup with 2:16 left to play to make it 66-61, and this was the loudest the Michigan State crowd had gotten. It was the Spartans that were now employing the full court press, and an SU turnover would allow MSU another offensive attempt and a chance at a one possession game.

Similar to the theme of this game, Syracuse responded to the Michigan State rally. This time, it was going back down low to Engstler for another bucket in the paint.

After not being much of a factor since the first quarter, the press was effective once again as SU caused a vital turnover with 1:26 left to play. On the ensuing offensive possession Syracuse went back to what worked early on. Cooper had been quiet since her 11-point first quarter, but gave the Orange a ten point lead, 71-61, by burying a three with 1:03 left to play.

The dagger from Cooper capped off her season-high 19 points. After playing the foul game, Michigan State was ultimately unable to complete the comeback that began in the first quarter with a 27-8 deficit.

With the win, Syracuse secured its first victory over a ranked team all year, and will look to do the same this Sunday against No. 22 West Virginia.

cjsacchi@syr.edul @SachChristopher