Syracuse easily handles Pitt, 90-63, before biggest test of season

first_imgThe last time Syracuse played Pittsburgh, it outshot the Panthers, forced turnovers and secured an easy win in the Peterson Events Center. A month later, now in the Carrier Dome, SU did it again.For the Orange, Thursday night was a tune-up. Even if they won’t admit it. SU’s 20th win was all but cemented by the time it established a 27-point lead before halftime. No. 18 Syracuse (20-6, 9-4 Atlantic Coast) dominated Pittsburgh (10-18, 1-13) in every facet of the game, winning 90-63, in the Carrier Dome. White jerseys drew charges during a full-court presses and blue jerseys traveled after in-bounds plays. SU’s bench (57 points) nearly outscored Pitt’s entire team, and only three Panthers made multiple baskets. Three nights before Syracuse hosts No. 6 Notre Dame on national television, it dispatched of a team that’s won no more than four conference games in four-straight years.“You want to come out and really do a good job of getting up and down the floor, playing in transition and our kids really came out and did a really good job,” Syracuse head coach Quentin Hillsman said, “We stayed focus, we stayed aggressive and we really pushed tempo. We did a good job defensively. We did a really good job on the glass. …We just did a good job.  In the five-game gauntlet before the Orange host the Fighting Irish, their play has been inconsistent. They blew out Boston College on Feb. 10 before being outplayed by North Carolina State three days later. SU topped Wake Forest by 20 on Sunday, but that was only after garbage time inflated the margin. Syracuse still had questions, but on Thursday night, aside from 25 turnovers, none appeared. Four players scored double-digits, Emily Engstler dazzled with a team-leading 17 points and SU pulled down 53 rebounds, a season-high. In short, the Panthers were the benchmark before the Orange’s biggest test. And SU passed. Syracuse started the first quarter slow but Pitt started slower. The Orange had defensive breakdowns and clanked open 3-pointers. The Panthers wasted layups and passess flew out of bounds. Eventually, SU’s talent shone through.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textFreshman guard Kadiatou Sissoko, returning after sitting two games with a swollen knee, checked in 4:50 in the first, kick-starting a 60-second, 9-0 run. On her first possession, she backed down her defender and lofted a hook shot through a thicket of arms. The next trip, she swished a 3. After Danielle Garven missed a lay-in, Tiana Mangakahia dribbled the floor and stepped into another 3. The Panthers called a timeout and Emily Engstler drained a deep ball when the Orange got the ball back.Even when SU failed to execute — like when Gabrielle Cooper stole a pass at half court, drove and missed a fastbreak chance — it didn’t matter. Following the Cooper miss, Miranda Drummond crashed the glass for the putback. Syracuse made nine field goals, four of which were threes and posted 23 points in the opening quarter. Pitt’s best looks in the quarter were a handful of layups and a half court heave that skidded off iron.The Panthers utilized a matchup-zone defense, Hillsman said. While Pitt pressed high near the perimeter, SU spaced itself by having Drummond cut baseline and Mangakahia operating from behind the arc. A few passes into each possession, Syracuse usually had an open 3, often in the corner in front of the visitor’s bench. The same spot opened up often and shooters took advantage. “We knew if we got the ball wing-corner then we had a chance to get some quality looks and we got some quality looks in the game,” Hillsman said. When the defensive covered the corner, Orange guards charged the rim. Pitt forced a few traps and jump balls in the post, but the Panthers couldn’t capitalize on the other end. Syracuse SU’s only negatives on the night appeared on a potential injured-reserve list. In the first quarter, Mangakahia was whacked in the face after a defensive board. The next frame, Digna Strautmane and Engstler collided after both reached for a steal. Cooper also appeared to jam her finger and had two digits wrapped on the sideline before reentering. After the game, no injuries were reported. Orange shooters eventually cooled, a side-effect of its offensive system, and went 1-of-9 during a second quarter stretch. It wasn’t reflected on the scoreboard. Pitt’s Danielle Garven and Jasmine Whitney did combine for 41 points, but the rest of the team went 7-for-32. SU’s lead dipped to 16 before seven-straight Engstler points reinforced the status quo. The freshman put together her most-complete game of the season. She was a force as a rebounder, defender and scorer, leading SU in the latter two categories as it entered the half with a 51-26 lead.Syracuse’s offense didn’t stop in the third. Mangakahia registered a double-double three minutes into the half. Amaya Finklea-Guity and Strautmane established a post-presence. Backup forward Raven Fox subbed in and drew a pair from the free throw line.The teams traded shots in the third quarter and the margin teetered around 20 points. SU’s defense didn’t lock down the Panthers, it just waited for them to turn the ball over. Late in the third, a Pitt player was called for a lane violation on the first of two free throws.In the opening minutes of the fourth, SU’s bench stayed on the sidelines. Hillsman didn’t relent. He called out open shooters and chided players for missed assignments. When a Cooper 3 with 7:32 left slipped through the net, giving Syracuse a 23-point lead, Hillsman yelled “Press!” As Strautmane stepped to the free throw line a possession later, he quickly said “focus” thrice.As the clock wound down, SU’s bench emptied. The loudest cheers came from the bench with every make and defensive stop produced by the reserves. When the buzzer sounded, the crowd didn’t scream or yell. A portion of it had already trekked toward the exit. Instead, those left lightly clapped or threw their coats on. Syracuse had done its job. “Tonight was pressure, we needed to take care of home court,” Hillsman said. “Monday is going to be a fun game. …We’re looking forward to it.” Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on February 21, 2019 at 8:50 pm Contact Nick: nialvare@syr.edu | @nick_a_alvarezcenter_img Commentslast_img