If you're waiting for the right time to start following Syracuse women's basketball, now is the time to do it. Filled with a freshman and sophomore-dominated lineup, the Orange defeated the Temple Owls, 82-76.
It looked like some Monday Night Football in the Dome when Rachel Coffey heaved the ball almost the entire length of the court on an in-bounds pass. Brittney Sykes zipped in from midcourt, and somehow beat out two Owl defenders ready to intercept the pass. Sykes caught the over-the-shoulder pass in stride and used her left hand to put in the layup. Sykes' highlight reel play put Syracuse up ten with about a minute left in the second half. It sealed the game and put an exclamation mark on another Orange victory.
The No. 23 Syracuse Orange improved to 9-1 and added another solid non-conference win to its resume. The Owls came into the game with a 5-2 record.
Before Monday, Sykes was averaging 19.8 ppg. She scored 20 points against Temple to add to an incredibly consistent sophomore season. In every game, Sykes has scored between 15 and 26 points.
Shakeya Leary led all scorers with 24 points to go along with 13 rebounds and six blocks. It's her fourth double-double of the season. Six of Leary's 13 rebounds came on the offensive glass, partially because she was two inches taller than any Temple starter. The Orange also outscored the Owls in the paint by a 48-30 margin.
Syracuse has continued its dominance in the Carrier Dome, winning all five true home games this season. Dating back to the start of last season, Syracuse is 18-1 in the Dome. The only loss came last March, when the Orange lost to Villanova in triple overtime.
Temple became the first team to really challenge the Orange in the Carrier Dome this season. In each of the first four home games, the Orange won by at least 40 points.
"It was a reality check to know that this team is coming to beat us and win in our home court," Sykes said. "You don't want an opponent beating you on your home floor, or beating you period."
SU scored the game's first 11 points and went into halftime with that same lead. But the Owls stormed back. Coach Quentin Hillsman saw his 11-point halftime lead turn into a six-point deficit just nine minutes after the break. Syracuse has come to rely so much on sophomore Brianna Butler, who's taken a complete 180 after struggling to find her shot for much of last year. On Monday, the Orange found how fickle relying on a shooter can be. Butler shot 4-18 and missed her first six shots of the second half.
Syracuse, one of the country's top ten teams in scoring, suddenly couldn't figure out how to get points. The Orange had eight points in nearly ten minutes to open up the half. And right then, Butler picked the right time to get hot. Three shots from outside. Three swishes. And Syracuse went up - by three.
"I looked at the score and noticed that we were down," Butler said. "I know that I needed to hit big shots to help my team. And I made them, knocked them down."
The Owls were able to chip away at the Syracuse lead, but were never able to erase it. The Orange never relinquished the lead, en route to the ninth win of the season. Unlike Syracuse's loss to Iowa, the Orange kept calm and regained its offensive firepower after losing a big lead.
"The difference between this game and Iowa was that when Iowa made threes late, we didn't make any," Hillsman said. "Temple made some threes late, but Brianna Butler stepped up and made some shots. That was the difference."
After the game, a disgruntled Hillsman said that Syracuse needs to get tougher, avoid giving up rebounds on the defensive end and letting opponents have open lanes to the basket. But Hillsman channelled his inner Herm Edwards - saying that after all, winning is the primary goal.
Said Hillsman, "That's the object of the game to come out and win basketball games. That's your goal every night."