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Alaysia Styles drove down the right side of the lane, reached the baseline and fired a bounce pass to her left to find Teisha Hyman, hoping she could get a clean shot off. Instead, Digna Strautmane, Lorela Cubaj and Nerea Hermosa swarmed the guard, raising their arms high over a crouched Hyman. Her shot hardly rattled the weaving thicket of arms from the three Georgia Tech forwards.
Syracuse had already turned a 16-point deficit into a one-point game. Carried by a shooting performance of over 40% from the field in the third quarter, the Orange had stormed back enough to force pressure on Georgia Tech, prompting timeouts. But SU was still trying to overcome the lack of size and poor defensive play in the paint that had plagued it throughout the game.
The Orange were helped along by a litany of forced turnovers and a better approach to attacking passing lanes. They shot better and started penetrating the lockdown GT defense, but it wasn’t enough to dissipate the reality of Georgia Tech’s defensive prowess. The Yellow Jackets (14-4, 5-2 Atlantic Coast) overmatched Syracuse (8-9, 1-6) down low on offensive attempts and shut down SU’s offense in a 65-55 victory.
Syracuse got off to a dismal start from the field, and was unable to notch its first points until Hyman forced her way through the Georgia Tech defenders alone and got a layup to fall just under four minutes into the game.
Najé Murray continued her recent slide, too, as she was unable to make a shot until she banged in a jump shot four and a half minutes into the third quarter. She was called for a travel early in the first quarter while trying to dribble around the top of the key, had a shot blocked and missed two consecutive 3-point attempts late in the second quarter.
Chrislyn Carr had been on a hot streak, with acting head coach Vonn Read saying she can be dynamic from all three levels on the court. But her performance mirrored that of Murray’s, and with Hyman falling into early foul trouble, the three-pronged backcourt became ineffective throughout the game. Chrislyn finished the first half with just four points after a 17-point outing against No. 3 Louisville.
Read knew Georgia Tech’s size could challenge the Orange, noting that the Yellow Jackets’ lineup essentially featured four forwards, including Cubaj, who entered Thursday night fourth in the country in rebounds per game. He added that allowing points in the paint has hurt the Orange in recent games — including their game against Louisville when they allowed 46 — meaning that facing one of the nation’s top defenses could hurt Syracuse on both ends.
“(The Yellow Jackets) do make it tough because they’re good defensively, and they shrink the game offensively,” Read said. “They take it out of the ball and make you work hard on defense.”
Georgia Tech continued its dominant defensive performance in the early stages of Thursday’s game, snuffing out numerous driving attempts from Hyman and Murray. Shortly after another GT jump shot fell in the first quarter, Murray attempted to drive on the left side of the paint. As she stormed toward the basket and switched to her left arm for the shot, Cubaj swatted away her attempt to keep the Yellow Jackets lead at six.
Despite an active effort to try and mitigate points inside the paint, Georgia Tech routinely dished passes down to the post, leading to drawn fouls and quick baskets from close range. During the middle of the third quarter, Syracuse’s defense relaxed enough to let Hermosa slip past Styles, allowing for her to attempt an uncontested layup. While she missed the first, no SU player crashed, so Hermosa collected her rebound and quickly put back a second layup that went in.
But on Georgia Tech’s first possession of the second quarter, Hermosa collected a pass inside from the top of the key, a simple, one-handed dish over Chrislyn. Hermosa pivoted on her plant foot, went up for the turnaround layup and easily drew a foul on Styles.
Foul trouble has plagued the Orange since entering the heart of ACC play, something Murray originally attributed to the aggressive nature of SU’s play, but both she and Read said earlier this week that practices weren’t necessarily focused on mitigating fouls. At the end of the first half, Georgia Tech was already 11-of-12 from the free-throw line, and three fouls from both Chrislyn and Hyman forced Read to sub in Nyah Wilson off the bench.
Read dismissed concerns that the team’s five starters, all of whom average more than 28 minutes per game, are carrying too much of the load for Syracuse. But he also acknowledged that the team isn’t relying on the full-court press as much as he’d like to since injuries forced him to shrink his bench, limiting his personnel options with conference play now in full swing.
“We don’t press as much as we like to or play the way that we want to, we’re just trying to save legs and give ourselves a chance for 40 minutes,” Read said.
The head coach doesn’t like to play his starters with more than two fouls, but once the Orange were able to carve through enough of Georgia Tech’s lead with a brief run in the third quarter, his regular starters played the majority of the fourth quarter.
Whether it was the regular starting five or a mix of Alaina Rice and Wilson, no one consistently stopped Georgia Tech down low long enough to earn a lead. To begin the fourth quarter, Strautmane threw a pass down low to Eylia Love, who easily shimmied around Christianna Carr for a layup. To end the game, Hermosa drove down the lane and lofted up another shot to extend the lead back to double digits for Georgia Tech, putting the game out of reach for an SU team too small and too thin to handle the Yellow Jackets.
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