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Syracuse’s win streak ended at six games in its first road game of the season. It came in a crushing 79-43 defeat to an undefeated No. 24 North Carolina squad, who entered the game boasting a top-10 scoring offense and defense that would be the toughest task for the Orange thus far.
But due to COVID-19 health and safety concerns, Syracuse was able to field only seven players against the Tar Heels. The absence of starters Alaysia Styles and Najé Murray was noticeable almost immediately. An already poor rebounding team got outmatched along the boards and turnover trouble ensued while UNC’s full-strength roster combined for a 36-point win over SU.
Here are observations from Syracuse’s (8-5, 1-2 Atlantic Coast) second conference loss of the season to UNC (12-0, 2-0 ACC)
No center = rebounding dilemma
Syracuse was without 6-foot-3 guard Styles, the team’s leader with 82 total rebounds. But Styles has been the Orange’s “center by committee” for each of its previous 11 games as their tallest player. Christianna Carr and Teisha Hyman were tasked with replacing Styles against an opponent who entered the game averaging 45.1 rebounds per game, the 10th-best unit in the country.
UNC’s top rebounder, Alyssa Ustby, entered the game having recorded 9.2 rebounds per game. At halftime, she had already secured 10 boards. At the end of the second quarter, North Carolina’s Eva Hodgson missed a 3-pointer from the right side of the arc and Ustby secured the offensive rebound. She collected a second consecutive rebound and forced the ball out of bounds off Syracuse’s Hyman. On the ensuing restart, Deja Kelly received a long pass just inside the paint and sunk a wide open mid-range jumper, giving the Tar Heels a 10-point lead.
Just past the halfway point of the first quarter, UNC had already recorded seven offensive rebounds, and in the latest version of Syracuse’s 5-out motion offense without Styles, its presence in the paint was almost nonexistent early on. The Orange finished with just 37 rebounds, only nine on offense.
Alyssa Ustby’s near historic performance
Ustby secured her sixth double-double of the season with ease, each coming with points and rebounds. She finished just four assists away from UNC’s first-ever triple-double. But without Styles in the paint, Ustby quickly racked up rebounds, but she was also UNC’s biggest scoring threat from close-range.
Being marked by just Hyman, Ustby finished off a close-range jumper off a pass from Hodgson. Ustby’s speed matched that of Syracuse, but her creativity outclassed the Orange as she constantly pivoted and changed direction around SU’s defenders to sink shots below the basket.
Syracuse turned the ball over 12 times in the first half with most mistakes leading to UNC’s 10 fast break points. The Tar Heels contained the Orange around the arc with a high-pressing 1-3-1 zone, making it difficult for them to get the 5-out offense rolling.
At the halfway point of the second quarter, Syracuse conceded its ninth turnover, which spurred a 6-0 run that saw UNC generate a 12-point lead. Ustby hit a solo layup from under the basket, maneuvering through three Orange defenders to do so. On the next possession, with Syracuse working the ball along the top of the arc, Anya Poole knocked the ball loose from Chrislyn Carr and set off on a solo run for a layup of her own. Syracuse finished with 23 turnovers, a season-high.
Lack of offensive options
Syracuse played the bulk of its post-Bahamas win-streak with nine available players. But when that number got reduced to seven against the Tar Heels, the Orange were put in a situation that their youthful depth could not overcome, especially against a ranked UNC squad.
Only Hyman and Alaina Rice recorded double-figures with 11 and 10 points, respectively. The Orange were far from the 3-point shooting team they’ve become recently and struggled to get inside the paint early on. Freshman Nyah Wilson earned her first start of the season and went 0-for-6 from the field, only scoring two points off free throws. Freshman Julianna Walker saw the most action she’s seen all season and immediately made her mark with a 3 from the right side of the arc in the second quarter, but she struggled to find the scoresheet afterward.
Hyman nearly fouled out and almost limited Syracuse’s options to six players. It was a performance built upon negative circumstances that ended a nearly month-long winning streak.
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