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Cornell attempted to mimic Syracuse early in the first quarter as the Big Red worked the ball around the perimeter of the arc. But that plan quickly backfired. Less than halfway through the quarter, Cornell was already down by 10 points and missed all three of its shots from deep.
Then the Big Red’s Theresa Grace Mbanefo carried the ball into Syracuse’s end and started Cornell’s attack. She found Samantha Will inside the paint, and the guard attempted a quick bounce pass across the zone that was intercepted by Alaysia Styles. Styles ran the distance of the court untouched and dropped in a layup to put the Orange up 14-2 early on.
Styles was essential to Syracuse’s (6-4, 0-1 Atlantic Coast) offensive success, helping SU extend its win-streak to five games with an 85-55 win over Cornell (4-6). She supported the Orange on both sides of the ball and nearly earned a double-double, scoring 16 points along with a team-high nine rebounds.
“She’s such a selfless player,” acting head coach Vonn Read said. “She does anything for the team — she doesn’t care about the points, she just wants to win. … We need her inside, we need her on the court all the time.”
At first, Syracuse didn’t need Styles. The Orange put early pressure on the Big Red, hitting four consecutive 3s while also establishing their presence in the paint. After Cornell’s second airball in the opening three minutes, Christianna Carr collected the ball and jump started a possession, bringing the ball into the Big Red’s end.
Christianna stopped at the top of the arc and found Teisha Hyman in the right corner. Hyman immediately sent an overhead pass to Alaysia Styles inside the paint, pivoting before sending the ball across to Chrislyn in the left corner. Then she found Christianna, who was once again posted up at the head of the offensive zone. She hit her second 3 of the game to give the Orange an early 9-2 lead.
Cornell entered the Carrier Dome having recorded 37.2 rebounds per game through its first 10 contests. Syracuse, on the other hand, had only recorded more than that four times this season. The Big Red continued their strong presence along the boards, recording five offensive rebounds in the opening half and finishing the game with 17 compared to Syracuse’s eight. But the Orange’s 31 defensive rebounds allowed them to even up with the Big Red along the boards.
Midway through the third quarter, Murray collected a defensive rebound off a missed Cornell 3-pointer and quickly bounce-passed the ball to Styles in an effort to alleviate the Big Red’s immediate pressure. Styles took the ball all the way down the court and accelerated in for a layup. She was fouled and awarded two shots from the free throw line, making them both and extending Syracuse’s lead 25.
Styles, who has typically played guard in her career, has been Syracuse’s “center by committee” thus far, a role she appeared comfortable in as she was the Orange’s driving force on both sides of the ball.
“I’ve never played this position and I’m kind of learning as I go,” Styles said. “In regards to being in the paint and having that space, it’s nice that we are doing five-out. I think it’s working for us and I’m glad I can be of help.”
Syracuse implemented its five-out offense at the start of the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament. It has allowed players to move freely around the perimeter and has ultimately led to wide-open shooting opportunities inside and outside of the paint. Most of the Orange’s success in finding those quality shots was due to players “making the extra pass,” Read said ahead of Wednesday’s game.
Four minutes into the game, Murray spun out of pressure on the left side of the arc. She paused before finding Styles, who sent the ball out to the right corner for Hyman, in the paint. Hyman hesitated, then dribbled into the paint to bank in the layup, finding points off smart passing from Styles.
“(The offense is) very unpredictable. It gives us the opportunity to be basketball players and make the right play,” Christianna said. “That’s where a lot of our assists are coming from.”
Styles was also a major factor in Syracuse’s transition game, creating 28 points. After Hyman secured the rebound off a missed 3 from Cornell’s Ania McNicholas, she sent a long pass forward to Nyah Wilson.
Wilson drove the ball into the paint and sent a no-look, one-handed pass to her right, finding an open Styles, who dropped an easy layup that gave Syracuse a 37-point lead, just another boost to the Orange on a night when they didn’t even need it.
Syracuse dressed just nine players, its sixth consecutive game with fewer than 10 players rostered. But the Orange scored a combined 17 points off the bench, including two 3-pointers from Julianna Walker. Wilson made her case to become Syracuse’s sixth forward off the bench, playing 19 minutes and recording four points and assists, emerging as another major presence inside the paint to complement Styles.
With 10 games behind them, the Orange are over .500 and now head into the bulk of their schedule as ACC play looms. The new faces brought onto the team after last season aren’t so new anymore, and Read has certainly established a functioning system. Approaching each game with the idea of improvement, tackling top-ranked teams — like they did against then-No. 18 Ohio State — will allow Syracuse to become a contender.
“It just takes time,” Styles said. “So many of us are new so it takes time learning how we are on the court and off the court. Going into the bulk of the season, we just have to continue what we’re doing and hope for the best.”
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