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In the third quarter, UNC’s Carlie Littlefield stole the ball away from Christianna Carr at the top of the key. Syracuse was at the precipice of being overcome by the fatigue it had tried to power through in the first half but that had overtaken the team as the game went on. The fast break forced Teisha Hyman inside, leading to her getting called for a foul — her fourth — with just under seven minutes left in the quarter.
On the next possession, Christianna tried a bounce pass inside to a crashing Alaina Rice. But the lane had been clogged by two North Carolina players, and the Tar Heels once again recorded a steal, once again made a contested layup and once again forced acting head coach Vonn Read to call a timeout with his team trailing by 18 points.
Turnovers plagued Syracuse early in the season, but it had fixed that aspect of its offense during its recent winning streak. Early in their game against No. 24 UNC, however, the Orange couldn’t settle into the same rhythm that they’d gotten used to at home. SU had already turned the ball over three times during the first five minutes, leading to an extended scoring drought after a Christianna 3-pointer early on.
SU was missing four players due to health and safety protocols, forcing Syracuse to play its second conference game of the season with just seven players. The lack of depth and plethora of turnovers led to North Carolina’s (12-0, 2-0 Atlantic Coast) offense continuously able to extend its lead out, handing the Orange (8-5, 1-2 ACC) their second conference loss, 79-43, and snapping a six-game winning streak.
“Tthe one thing that really hurt us was we had no chemistry offensively when you start to play in some of those lineups,” Read said.
Read didn’t stick to a set rotation early in the season, weaving the majority of his players on and off the court to “establish a rotation,” all while Syracuse struggled to find consistent success. That was before SU went to the Bahamas and lost three straight games, and before it returned to the Carrier Dome to rattle off a six-game winning streak that catapulted the team to one of the top scoring units in the country. Syracuse had worked out a starting five — two of whom it missed on Thursday — and had switched to a potent five-out offensive scheme that allowed the players to easily transition off a full-court press.
Hyman said after the team’s win against the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, that she’d rather stay in a routine of playing multiple games per week. That was before the Orange’s final scheduled home game of 2021 against Siena was postponed due to COVID-19 concerns within the Saints’ program. That created a 12-day gap between games, and when they returned to the court against a ranked conference opponent on the road, the Orange had just seven players.
That rotation and chemistry that Syracuse worked to build was squandered after learning that four players wouldn’t be with the team for its third top-25 matchup. Read said players like Rice (10 points, seven rebounds) stepped up off the bench. But the Orange have relied on their set starting five for more than 60% of points per game. Adding different players to the mix threw off that system.
Hyman’s third-quarter foul limited Read’s reliable options to six, including Julianna Walker, who averaged just six minutes per game entering Thursday. Hyman was left essentially unusable throughout the majority of the second half, and Chrislyn Carr wasn’t taking as many shots as she usually would. That led to extended scoring droughts during the game, one Syracuse suffered in the first quarter that allowed North Carolina to erect its initial double-digit lead that it never relinquished.
The Orange attempted the only tangible comeback they could muster in the second quarter before excessive fatigue clicked in. Hyman found her first points after driving into the paint and getting a floater to fall, kickstarting a streak of three straight makes for the Orange in the paint that eventually brought them back within eight points. Hyman came back on the next possession, faked a pass at the top of the key and drove to the basket for a layup. Rice followed that with her own layup.
But North Carolina, who entered the game as the top offense in the ACC, continued to keep the pressure on Syracuse down low throughout the first half, ensuring it kept its three-to-four possession advantage. With a short bench, Read periodically checked in with players to ask if they needed a timeout while the Tar Heels continued to apply pressure with a high-paced offense and a potent defense.
“The more the game went on the more exhausted we were,” Read said. “They kept rolling new players in, big physical players.”
With 40 seconds remaining in the third quarter, the officials called an injury timeout for Christianna, who limped off with a cramp in her right leg. While she was getting worked on by the trainer, UNC rattled off an 11-1 run to balloon its lead out to 27 before the end of the quarter. Christianna eventually came back in time for the fourth quarter, but also played a part in a nine-minute scoring drought during the fourth quarter that ended in Syracuse losing by its widest margin since the second-round loss to UConn that finished last season.
“Obviously we were undermanned, having seven players and two of your starters (gone), it makes it really, really tough,” Read said.
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