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With a buzzer-beating jumper at the end of the third quarter, Chrislyn Carr capped off an 18-point period from the Orange. The Orange trailed by six, but they were starting to cause problems for Georgia Tech with their full-court press.
The press forced a steal three minutes into the final period, leaving Najé Murray at the top of the key with the ball. But she threw the ball into traffic trying to hit Alaysia Styles for a layup, allowing former SU forward Digna Strautmane to steal the ball.
Strautmane only got a few steps forwards before she was called for a double-dribble, giving Syracuse another possession to lessen the now nine-point GT lead. Left alone, Carr drove down the middle of the lane, but she was called for an offensive foul.
“We just need to do a better job of getting better shots,” Syracuse acting head coach Vonn Read said postgame.
Against No. 18 Georgia Tech (14-4, 5-2 Atlantic Coast), who entered the game as the best defensive team in the nation only allowing 46.3 points per game, Syracuse (8-9, 1-6 ACC) couldn’t get anything going offensively. Though the Orange forced 26 turnovers, they weren’t able to turn that into offense with a 32.8% performance from the field.
Teisha Hyman was the most successful SU player, finishing with 18 points. But following the 65-55 loss, Hyman had a simple answer for what Syracuse struggled with: “we just need to hit shots.”
With the height disparity and the task of going against the nation’s best defense, Read said before the game that the Orange wanted to maintain their regular offensive system of the five-out, trying to push the pace against the Yellow Jackets.
“We want to try and push the tempo and play our style of play,” Read said. “They do make it tough because they’re good defensively and they shrink the game offensively.”
Instead of relying on their previous strategy from early in the year of driving inside and kicking the ball out to 3-point shooters, the Orange tried to score early in the shot clock. Those strings of passes, which eventually found open shooters, were nonexistent, and Syracuse tried to work inside with its speed through Carr, Murray and Hyman.
Read said this was due to the Orange trying to locate shot attempts as fast as possible in order to avoid having to go inside against the Yellow Jackets’ four starting forwards.
“We were trying to take the first open look and spread the ball to get it inside for the drive,” Read said.
Only Carr and Hyman were able to find some success early on, scoring eight points in the first half by driving straight down the middle of the lane. Hyman scored SU’s first six points of the game, dribbling to create separation in the lane for two quick jumpers and one trip to the free-throw line. Murray went inside once at the beginning of the first quarter to try and get the Orange their first bucket of the game, but Lorela Cubaj swatted her away.
Still, Syracuse’s offense running through its guards trying to get shots inside against opponents was a change of pace for the Orange, who usually implement a drive-and-kick strategy to aid their five-out system. Read said that because of the length of the Yellow Jackets’ defenders, SU was forced to put up difficult shots with the inability to connect on passes to open shooters on the perimeter.
“That’s who we are — we have to be able to drive and kick,” Read said. “But they’re long; they hold teams to that low of points for a reason.”
When the Orange did shoot 3s, they didn’t find much success. Georgia Tech was able to force Syracuse’s best shooters like Hyman and Murray to take difficult shots, while leaving players like Styles open looks from beyond the arc. Styles was able to connect on 2-of-3 attempts from deep, but she was the only SU player to find success on 11 3-point attempts in the first half.
Throughout the third quarter, however, Syracuse started to turn things around offensively, finding more success stringing together passes rather than trying to find the first available option early in the shot clock. Along with the full-court press forcing turnovers, the Orange were able to cut the Yellow Jackets’ lead to as little as five during the period. Styles said the third quarter, in general, can be crucial for teams, which helped Syracuse on Thursday night.
“The third quarter is a very big part of the basketball game because it’s after the half,” Styles said. “What teams do to their report kind of changes the pace of the game regardless how the first half went.”
Despite scoring 18 points that quarter, Syracuse continued to run isolation plays, leaving its smallest players matched up against Georgia Tech’s bigs. After being blocked by Cubaj earlier in the game, Murray drove into the lane early in the third quarter, hoping to beat Strautmane with her speed.
But Strautmane swatted the ball out of bounds, halting another attempt from the Orange to cut into the Yellow Jackets’ double-digit lead. She found Nerea Hermosa inside for a layup a few plays later, adding even more of a cushion to Georgia Tech’s advantage.
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