WBB : Despite late scoring drought, Syracuse holds on to edge Lehigh
Quentin Hillsman talks often about putting his team through adverse situations in order to strengthen play – a theory that, after eight grueling games and 6,700 miles worth of travel to start the season, came to life Tuesday.
‘It’s unbelievable,’ Hillsman said. ‘You talk about playing that tough and that physical after that many games in a row, that’s toughness because that’s all effort, heart and conditioning.’
The Orange (6-2), powered by Hillsman’s gut-check attitude, muscled past Lehigh (5-2) 69-60 Tuesday in the Carrier Dome in front of 423 spectators. The win snapped a four-game winning streak for the Mountain Hawks.
After sustaining a game-long lead aided by uncharacteristically poor Lehigh shooting, it seemed as though Syracuse would be able to coast through the second half. But like they had in previous meetings, the Mountain Hawks mounted a charge. This time the Orange held on, despite scoring one field goal in the game’s final 12:49.
Minutes into the second half, Lehigh junior guard Alex Ross nailed her team’s second 3-pointer of the night. After a missed 3-pointer from sophomore Erica Morrow, the Mountain Hawks countered once again with a quick inside bucket from senior forward Haly Crites.
All of a sudden, the lead – once 12 – was down to six, and the Orange was in need of what little fuel they had left in the tank.
‘When (Lehigh) started running past us and getting things in transition, I knew we had to be tired, because we are definitely more athletic than they are – we definitely needed a time out,’ Hillsman said.
Syracuse’s players responded the way Hillsman had trained them to. The Orange continued to fend off the Hawks with hardnosed basketball, outrebounding them, 48-36, while dominating points in the paint and second-chance points by double-digit margins.
‘One thing we do in the preseason, coach is real tough, and he prepares us for times like this,’ Morrow said. ‘I think we’re a mentally tough team, and it’s all about who is going to come out and play the hardest. That’s our motto, and I think that’s the mentality that all players have.’
With seven minutes to play, it seemed the Orange had outwilled their opponent.Off a missed Morrow 3-point attempt, senior forward Chandrea Jones, who led the team with 18 points, stormed the lane. She swiped an offensive rebound – one of the 22 on the night for SU – and went back up strong and drew the foul. After sinking both shots, the Orange rested comfortably with a 13-point lead.
‘I always talk to my kids about not being in shape, but I think tonight they really showed how tough they really are,’ Hillsman said. ‘They showed their conditioning by going to the glass and getting 22 offensive rebounds. That was an unbelievable effort.’
But two quick Lehigh baskets to follow put the Hawks in striking distance once again – only this time with three minutes remaining, and little time for error.
Hillsman waited to use his final timeout, instead relying on his fatigued team to regroup for one last push. Off the ensuing inbounds pass, Lehigh found an open shooter beyond the 3-point line. Junior forward Nicole Michael leapt in the air and swatted the ball into Lehigh’s sideline.
‘Pretty much I’m just doing what coach says,’ Michael said. ‘Just being more physical, playing my game and knowing that I can play as good as I did.’
Following an undoubtedly taxing victory for the Orange, Hillsman has no plans to take his foot off the accelerator. Instead, he plans to run the team like he always has, he said, in order to keep them tough for future situations.
‘We don’t have soft practice,’ Hillsman said. ‘We go hard every day. … We have some running to do for this game – we have certain goals that we want to reach every game, and we didn’t reach them all. So we’ll be here early morning Thursday morning and pay our dues.’
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