After spending the past four years on the bench, Syracuse redshirt-senior Shakeya Leary was having the game of her life.
And it almost wasn't enough.
Washington State had the ball, down two with ten seconds left in the game. But Lia Galdeira's shot missed and Leary grabbed the rebound and was fouled. Leary's two free throws extended her career-high total to 21 points and helped the Orange complete a tough road victory.
"I'm happy for our program and happy for our kids," a relieved coach Quentin Hillsman said, now in his eighth year.
The Syracuse Orange defeated the Washington St. Cougars, 69-65, in Beasley Coliseum to start the 2013-14 season with a victory. Leary's 21 points on 8-15 shooting and 16 rebounds saved Syracuse on opening night.
"I keep telling people that Shakeya’s a good player," Hillsman said after the game. "She’s going to help us all season long."
Sophomore guard Brittney Sykes converted a fast-break lay up, which gave Syracuse an early 2-0 lead. Sykes and Leary helped Syracuse jump ahead, 23-14, midway into the first half. But Washington State turned the game around. After starting 2-20 from the field, the Cougars hit their next 7-of-11 shots.
The Cougars didn't only decrease their deficit. They went into halftime with a 33-30 lead.
Early in the second half, the Orange got a boost from reserve guard La'Shay Taft. Taft converted two straight layups in the paint and hit a three, all in the span of two minutes.
Sykes made two key shots late in the game. The second one put the Orange up four with only 32 seconds to go. The Cougars responded with a three, which cut the lead to one. But Leary, and later Cornelia Fondren, hit free throws to put the game away.
"It’s good to come on the road and win a game likes this," Hillsman said.
Sykes tallied 16 points. She was the only Syracuse scorer in double digits, aside from Leary.
Leary spent the last four years watching center Kayla Alexander dominate in the paint. Alexander broke the team records for points and rebounds. She was selected in the first round of the WNBA Draft. Alexander led a Syracuse team that had one of the most successful seasons in program history. The Orange (24-8, 11-5 BIG EAST) reached the semifinals of the conference tournament and the Round of 64 in the NCAAs. SU finished the season as the No. 22 team in both major polls.
Alexander, Carmen Tyson-Thomas and Lacie Hall were the team's top three scorers. All three are gone.