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Chrislyn Carr had been slowed down throughout Syracuse’s six-game Atlantic Coast Conference losing streak. Going against bigger opponents, the Orange’s 5-foot-5 guard has spent the past month playing out of her comfort zone — unable to speed past her opponents in transition and help ignite a successful Syracuse fast break.
But visiting the Carrier Dome on Sunday was a Pittsburgh team that averaged 18.2 turnovers a game and committed nine after the game’s first 10 minutes. Chrislyn ended the first half with seven points and returned back to her strong role on the fast break, often getting to the bucket with ease.
Late in the second quarter, Najé Murray secured a defensive rebound, took one step forward and launched a pass into Pittsburgh’s end for Chrislyn. She routinely caught the ball in stride between two Panthers defenders and banked in a layup, breaking a 31-31 tie to give Syracuse the lead.
“I think in transition we did a really great job tonight,” Chrislyn said. “Running and making the right pass, and my teammates helped me bring the ball up the court in those crucial moments.”
It became a lead that Syracuse (9-10, 2-7 ACC) would not surrender against Pittsburgh (11-10, 2-8 ACC) in a 80-72 win. The Orange snapped their losing streak — despite being outscored in the paint and significantly outbattled on the boards — as they were able to exploit the Panthers’ 23 turnovers and produce offense off them.
While Syracuse has typically been the smaller team in recent ACC contests, it hasn’t struggled to win the battle on the boards. It matched Louisville with 31 rebounds and outrebounded Duke by 12, two relatively close games until the game’s final stages.
But Pittsburgh, being one of the best rebounding teams in the country, took advantage of Syracuse’s inferior size and depth early on, punishing the Orange by scoring all of its first-quarter field goals inside. SU managed to restrict the Panthers’ scoring to only 2s, with Pitt missing 19 shots from deep and scoring 50 of its points in the paint.
“I thought we did a good job of spacing at the perimeter, and our girls did a good job of following the scout,” acting head coach Vonn Read said. “We did a good job on the perimeter guarding them.”
Pittsburgh’s presence inside was a challenge Syracuse was aware of heading into Sunday’s game. The Panthers were the country’s eighth-best rebounding team, averaging 44.4 a game, and outrebounded Syracuse by 23 with the Panthers converting multiple putback layups. It spurred their 8-0 run to take the lead late in the first quarter.
Pittsburgh recorded three offensive rebounds during that stretch, scoring two putbacks and one driving layup. Amber Brown pulled the Panthers within five points of the Orange, with a putback layup of her own.
Then, two plays later, Emy Hayford soared past two SU players below the basket, picked up back-to-back boards and got Pittsburgh within a point. Pitt went on a 10-4 run throughout the rest of the quarter, as SU missed 3-pointers and conceded costly personal fouls that limited its aggressiveness and pushed the boundaries of which Read would be willing to rotate players in off the bench.
Syracuse finished the game with eight offensive rebounds, while Pittsburgh recorded 16 after just the first 20 minutes. Those rebounds led to those putback shots and allowed the Panthers to reset their possession around the Orange’s zone. But as SU outrebounded Pittsburgh in the second half, it was in control on either side of the ball allowing it to lead for the final two frames.
“We knew that was going to be a battle and that they’re a great offensive rebounding team,” Read said. “I thought we did a better job in the second half only giving up eight offensive rebounds, but they were a very athletic team.”
Still, the Orange’s transition game was in full-swing, as they were able to take advantage of Pittsburgh’s turnovers — which offset their inconsistencies on the boards, and at times, from the field.
Syracuse established their most important lead with back-to-back second-quarter layups. Christianna Carr hit a mid-range jumper to give Syracuse a three-point lead late in the first half, and then, on Pittsburgh’s next possession, Christianna recorded a steal off a Maliyah Johnson pass, and reminiscent of Chrislyn’s fast-break strategy, she ran the ball uncontested to sink the layup. It was her 10th point of the game, the most she had recorded since Jan. 13 against Louisville.
But Syracuse began conceding turnovers late in the game as their usual fatigue — the same fatigue that overcame it against both Notre Dame and Louisville — settled in. Still, the Orange remained consistent on the fast break, which led to 31 of the team’s points on Sunday.
Syracuse also kept hitting crucial 3s, which kept its lead intact. It took the Orange 40 minutes to consistently sink three 3-pointers in Thursday’s loss at Notre Dame, a loss which saw the Fighting Irish seal a 21-point victory with a 14-2 fourth quarter run. On Sunday however, the Orange reached that mark in the game’s first three minutes.
Pittsburgh missed all 10 of its first half 3s, while Syracuse went 7-of-18. Christianna, who hadn’t made more than 30% of her 3s in two of her last three games, missed just one of her first four shots from deep.
It was that ability to strike from 3-point range and in transition that allowed Syracuse to exploit the weaknesses of a bigger Pittsburgh team and snap a six-game conference losing streak that had stretched on since December. Being able to convert more chances — Pittsburgh’s turnovers in particular — gave the Orange confidence that a late ACC win streak is possible.
“If we can cause that many turnovers, we’re going to go on a pretty big stretch here,” Murray said. “If we can make every team turn the ball over 20 times a game.”
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