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Heading into its final matchup of three games over the last five days, Syracuse faced No. 23 Virginia Tech at the Carrier Dome. Guard Najé Murray said that the Orange’s final four matchups of the season, starting against the Hokies, are crucial in order to not face NC State or Louisville early in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament.
“We need to take care of business,” Murray said. “We have an opportunity on Thursday to beat a good Virginia Tech team. We need to remain together.”
But in its ninth matchup against a ranked opponent this season, the Orange fell to the Hokies, unable to get a lead for the entirety of the outing. Through a 3-point attack combined with Elizabeth Kitley’s dominance in the paint, VT led by as much as 52 on Thursday. Still, Teisha Hyman led the Orange with 18 points, shooting 7-for-15 from the field.
Here are some observations from Syracuse’s 102-53 loss to No. 23 Virginia Tech:
3-point defense falters
With Kitley’s 6-foot-6 presence in the key, the Orange looked to stop anything happening inside. But by doing that, they gave up easy opportunities from the 3-point line early in the game. Georgia Amoore scored directly over Hyman on the Hokies’ opening possession off of a screen.
Then, a string of passes freed Aisha Sheppard in the left corner and left wing on consecutive possessions for another deep heave. A final 3-pointer from Amoore forced acting head coach Vonn Read to call a timeout as he looked to change SU’s defensive strategy.
But out of the break, the Hokies continued to find open looks from deep with Sheppard scoring on their ensuing possession. They only missed from beyond the arc after Amoore took an unstable shot with less than two minutes left in the opening period. VT finished 6-for-9 from deep in the opening period.
The second quarter saw four more 3-pointers from Virginia Tech. But in the second half, it stopped shooting as much from deep due to the Orange’s full-court press. Still, Cayla King scored from deep late in the third quarter, left unmarked at the right wing.
When Syracuse’s offense has been in desperation this season, it’s turned to Hyman to pull it out of its misery. And against the Hokies, the Orange needed baskets as early as midway through the first quarter after VT hopped out to an early lead from deep.
At the start of the second quarter, Hyman used her best offensive skill — working in isolation. Read said that the Orange have tried to use that advantage the entire season, giving Hyman the keys to the offense.
“Teisha is our best one-on-one player that can go get the bucket — we just get the ball in her hands,” Read said.
She first dribbled past three Virginia Tech defenders, stopping at the right elbow for a pull-up jumper. Then, Hyman went to the top of the key again, stepping back for a 3-point heave. By the end of the first half and in between back-to-back baskets from the Hokies, Hyman scored twice, both from mid-range jumpers near the left wing. She went into the halftime break with 16 points.
Attempting to stop Kitley
While size has been a problem for the Orange’s defense throughout the season, Kitley is the tallest ACC opponent they’ve had to face all year. She stayed quiet for the first few minutes of the game, but after figuring out how to find space between Christianna Carr and Alaysia Styles, Kitley started to go to work in the post.
Using hesitation moves, pump fakes and her height advantage, Kitley scored four times in the opening quarter. For her first basket, Kitley positioned herself on the right block and hesitated left against Christianna to score. Then, following a 3-pointer from Styles, Kitley got in between Christianna and Styles, flipping a hook shot into the basket.
And in the final seconds of the first quarter, Kitley got the ball again, this time at the left block. She faked inside, fading backward instead to give the Hokies a 14-point lead heading into the second quarter.
Kitley missed sometimes, however, shooting too hard while trying to embrace contact from Styles or Christianna. But even when she did, her teammates were there to clean up on the offensive glass, with King and Azana Baines scoring after picking up rebounds from Kitley’s misses.
In the second half, Alaina Rice came in for Christianna at times, but she was unable to help against Kitley. With less than five minutes left in the third quarter, Kitley got backside leverage on Rice, catching the ball over her for an easy two points. Kitley finished with 24 points and 11 rebounds.
Success from deep
Usually, the Orange have relied on Murray to score first from deep as the catalyst to the drive-and-kick offense they’ve utilized this season. But Styles and Christianna have been getting looks early as well, which happened on Thursday night after Murray’s opening attempt rimmed out.
Christianna opened the scoring from beyond the arc, positioning herself at the right wing, allowing Chrislyn Carr to find her early in the shot clock. Then, Styles went to the same spot a few possessions later, also converting. Christianna scored once more from deep in the first quarter, and Hyman hit twice in the second. By halftime, the Orange had a 40.7% success rate from deep.
At the start of the second half, the Orange continued to find success from Chrislyn and Christianna from deep. Chrislyn scored after Hyman was blocked on a layup, collecting her own miss and finding Chrislyn at the top of the key. On SU’s next possession, Christianna was left unmarked at the left wing for an easy shot from deep.
But in the fourth quarter, the Orange couldn’t find any luck from anywhere on the court. They continued to shoot from deep, with their depth checking into the game as the Hokies continued to add to their lead. SU went 1-for-8 from deep in the final period, with Julianna Walker scoring the team’s only make.
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