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Following its sixth straight loss, Syracuse headed back to the Carrier Dome for another Atlantic Coast Conference matchup against Pittsburgh. In the first of two meetings over the next 14 days between the two teams, the Orange ended their losing streak with a win against the Panthers.
Syracuse kept it close from the start, hitting from 3-point range four times in the first five minutes. After taking a lead at halftime, the Orange only added to their lead while Pittsburgh struggled to shoot from deep in the second half. SU recorded double-digit 3-pointers for the first time since its only other conference win on Dec. 11 against Clemson.
Here are some observations from Syracuse’s 80-72 win over Pittsburgh:
Spreading the wealth
The Orange’s 5-out offense has been used to take advantage of the speed that the undersized team had. While conference opponents have been able to stop them at times, these issues didn’t arise against Pitt’s defense.
The Panthers allow 66.0 points per game, sitting at sixth in the conference in defensive rebounding with 27.5 per game. But with Pittsburgh’s offense struggling from deep throughout the majority of the game, its defense faltered, too.
The Orange struck early from deep, hitting seven 3-pointers in the first half. They were able to find open looks by setting screens for potential shooters while also relying on the likes of Alaysia Styles and Christianna Carr — who don’t normally shoot from deep.
Instead of taking the first open look it could find, Syracuse remained patient and allowed screens to dictate where the offense would flow while also looking for the extra pass.
The drive-and-kick method from earlier in the season also made a return. And the Orange’s quickness turned transition offense into a simple race between Syracuse players’ speed versus Pittsburgh’s. In most of those battles, the Orange won, with players like Chrislyn Carr being too quick for the Panthers to handle.
Defense in the paint
Syracuse’s inside play has been a struggle on both sides of the ball, and Pittsburgh was able to use its size to its advantage against the Orange’s 2-3 zone defense. At 6-foot-3, Styles is the Orange’s presence in the middle of the court, but she was unable to stop easy looks from the Panthers inside.
Early in the first quarter, Pittsburgh realized that if it were able to get Styles out of position by sending the ball handler directly at her, another player could be freed up on a backdoor cut. The Panthers ran this successfully on their first two baskets, and the second resulted in a foul by Styles, too, while she tried to make up for the space she lost focusing on another defender.
Styles or other defenders were able to come back and force tough shots on most possessions, but the next issue came on the glass. Repeatedly, the Panthers sent one or two of their bigs to try and get offensive rebounds against the smaller Syracuse team. Those rebounds quickly turned into easy baskets.
Teisha Hyman again
Though the Orange have spread the ball out within their offense for the majority of the season, Teisha Hyman has still emerged as their most prolific scorer. She entered the game leading the team with 15.4 points per game, 4.3 assists and 2.6 steals, while adding 5.7 rebounds per game.
On the first possession of the game, Hyman made her impact on the defensive end with a steal off an inbounds pass by the Panthers. But she pulled up on the other end and missed the ensuing mid-range jumper, allowing Pittsburgh to push in transition and get on the board first.
Hyman opened the scoring for SU in the second quarter, though, embracing contact from one defender inside the lane before fading back for a jumper. On the ensuing possession, Hyman used her speed to secure a rebound and go coast-to-coast for another layup. This time, she used her left hand to get the bucket and the foul.
But for the rest of the game, Hyman stayed somewhat quiet, giving up her own scoring opportunities to her teammates. She helped the Orange push in transition, and she finished with 11 points.
Rhythm from deep
Syracuse has not been able to build any rhythm from beyond the arc in recent games, finishing its last two matchups against Georgia Tech and Notre Dame shooting 20.0% and 15.0% from 3-point range, respectively.
Still, the Orange didn’t change their game plan of trying to get open looks from deep early against the Panthers. SU’s de facto center, Styles, was the first to attempt from deep, hitting the front rim. But Styles found the bottom of the net on her second and third heaves from the right wing following a make by Najé Murray from the same spot.
Christianna added a fourth 3-pointer before giving the Orange the lead in the second quarter with a strike from deep. Christianna continued to get open from deep by getting into spots that Pittsburgh left empty in its defense. At the start of the third quarter, Chrislyn quickly moved the ball in transition, leaving a trailing Hyman with an open look at the left wing.
But Hyman didn’t shoot after she got the ball, instead sending a cross-court pass to Christianna for a 3. A minute later, Christianna positioned herself at the same spot she shot from before sending the ball to Murray for a 3 at the opposite wing. The Orange finished with 13 3-pointers.
Rice off the bench
Syracuse has only brought one player off the bench during most of its games in January — Auburn transfer Alaina Rice.
At the end of the first quarter, Rice showed her importance as the Orange’s main hustle player, making up for a mistake by Chrislyn. After Chrislyn lost the ball on the offensive end with the first quarter in its final seconds, Rice rushed back on defense and stuck her right arm out to prevent a pass from Amber Brown, setting up a buzzer-beating shot.
With six minutes left in the second quarter, Styles went out following a hard hit that left her on the ground at the defensive end for over a minute. She was able to get onto her feet and check in later in the quarter, but acting head coach Vonn Read plugged Rice back in during that time.
“Alaina is playing a lot of minutes for us and she can play multiple positions for us,” Read said earlier this season. “She’s tough enough to play inside and she’s skilled enough to play out on the perimeter.”
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