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Saturday, Feb 02, 2019 at 1:50 pm

Late Defensive Stands Push No. 18 Syracuse Past Virginia

By A.J. Fabbri

Women’s Basketball Beat Reporter

Eight different Syracuse players scored en route to a 72-68 victory over Virginia Thursday night in the Carrier Dome.

Tiana Mangakahia led No. 18 Syracuse (17-4, 6-2 Atlantic Coast) with 16 points and 14 assists, marking her fourth double-double of the year. The junior scored or assisted on 12 of Syracuse’s 17 points in the decisive final quarter.  Virginia (8-13, 2-7) slowed the pace for the first three quarters, keeping the within reach, but couldn’t hang on in the final frame.

“I’m not shocked at the outcome of the game and how close it was,” SU head coach Quentin Hillsman said. “I’m more shocked that (Virginia) is 2-6.”

Mangakahia dropped in her vintage right handed scoop shot with four minutes in the game to give the Orange a 68-63 lead. But any sense of security was immediately wiped away on the next possession as UVA’s Dominique Toussaint drilled a triple from the right wing to make it a two-point game.

With 1:30 left, Brianna Tinsley intercepted a Mangakahia pass that led to a UVA fast break. Tinsley missed the initial layup attempt, but the game’s leading scorer, Jocelyn Willoughby, cleaned up the mess. Her 24th and 25th points of the night tied the game at 68.

With the game hanging in the balance, the Orange turned to their star. Mangakahia peeled off a ball screen from Digna Strautmane. She was bumped on her shot attempt, and knocked down the ensuing free throws to put the Orange ahead 70-68.

“Tonight I think we stayed poised. We didn’t stress or rush,” Mangakahia said.

We just played our own game especially at the end. We locked down on defense.”

The Syracuse defense was stingy in the game’s most critical points. It held the Cavaliers scoreless for five minutes in the second quarter as the Orange took a five-point lead into halftime. The Orange zone also held UVA to one for its last seven field goals in the game.

“Our players did a really solid job keeping them in front and limiting their chances with defensive rebounds,” Hillsman said.

Strautmane was at the free throw line looking to ice the game with SU up two with 27 seconds left. After the sophomore made the first, her second attempt bounced off the back iron.

For a split second, there was hope for the Cavaliers. But Gabrielle Cooper stomped out any chance of a UVA comeback as she grabbed a game-clinching offensive rebound over the much taller Willoughby.

Another free throw would extend the lead to four, shutting the door on a Virginia upset. Strautmane finished with 14 points on 5 of 8 shooting, including knocking down two deep balls.

“This is good for us. The games get tougher and tougher throughout the season. We’ve had some games where we’ve had to hit some shots late. And we’re doing that,” Hillsman said.

SU’s second victory in a row sets up a massive showdown for the Orange as they head down to Kentucky to take on No. 3 Louisville. The Cardinals took down Connecticut by 10 Thursday night.

ajfabbri@syr.edu | @armand_john