On a night when the lights went out on campus, Syracuse brought all the power against Clemson.
During the evening, about 7,000 people, many of whom are students, were part of an extensive blackout. But the Orange lit up the Carrier Dome, using an 18-0 run late in the second half to come back.
Briana Day started the drive with 7:13 left, when the Orange trailed 64-58. She posted up her defender and hit a turnaround jumper, 12 feet from the basket. A minute later, Brianna Butler found her fellow sophomore, Brittney Sykes, cutting to the hoop. Sykes drove left, scored and drew a foul. Her three point play got the Orange within one. Then Butler, the nation's leader in three pointers made, added another one to retake the lead.
"Going into the second half, we were more aggressive," Butler said. "We were able to get our traps. We were able to make Clemson get out of their element and were able to get them to turn the ball over."
After a see-saw second half, all the bounces suddenly seemed to be going Syracuse's way. When Rachel Coffey finished the scoring streak by hitting a three at the 4:33 mark, the Orange held a definitive 76-64 lead.
"We did a really good job at just getting into our pressure and being aggressive," Quentin Hillsman said. "I thought that during that stretch, Taylor Ford was tremendous on the offensive glass. She had four or five put-backs pretty much in six possession and that was the difference in the game."
Up to that point, the sharpshooting Tigers stymied the Orange. Whether it was from deep, at the elbow or inside, the Clemson offense executed with absolute efficiency early on. The Tigers passed the ball extremely well, causing confusion for Coach Q. It was only the team's second time against the Orange 2-3 zone, but they looked unfazed. In the first half, Clemson went 63 percent from three, almost double its season average.
Fortunately for Syracuse, the Orange was able to dominate on the glass from the start. In the first half, Syracuse had a 13-1 advantage in offensive rebounds. Leading the way in that department was Shakeya Leary (5) and Taylor Ford (4).
"It wasn’t any scheme," Hillsman said. "I just told them that we have to go get the ball. If the ball is on the glass, we all have to crash. We can’t watch."
Syracuse scored 15 of its 25 second-chance points in the first half. The offensive rebounding also significantly limited Clemson's possessions.
Even so, the Tigers made the most of their opportunities seemingly every time they had the ball. Clemson started the game 4-4 from behind-the-arc.
As a result, the Orange went to intermission trailing, 45-42.
"At halftime, there were no adjustments made," Quentin Hillsman said. "I just told them, ‘This ain’t about basketball right now. It’s about your heart and your guts and about you being a team, about you wanting to win this basketball game’".
Sykes entered the game 10th in the ACC in scoring at 17.0 points per game. At halftime, she only totaled three points. And she knew she would have to lead the charge for the Orange to have a chance.
"Coach got on me," Sykes said. "My team definitely got on me about scoring low in the first half and getting it going late because there’s going to be games where it’s going to be too late for me to score."
Sykes scored six of her team's first eight points in the second half. She helped the Orange go back ahead, but it wasn't for long. The Orange and Tigers traded the lead back-and-forth a few times, until Syracuse finally delivered its thrashing scoring run.
Ford had a team-high 19 points and eclipsed her previous career-high of 13. Almost as important, she had eight total offensive rebounds.
"I do whatever I can to make my team win so if I have to crash the board every time and get rebounds, that’s what I’m going to do," she said.
Behind Ford, Sykes had 15 points in the half and finished the game with a respectable scoring line: 18 points, five rebounds and three assists. Also scoring in double-digits were Butler (16) and Leary (11).
Around 9:15, Syracuse University announced that power was finally coming back on around campus. Almost simultaneously, the same was happening for the Orange defense, sleepy for much of the game.
Said Butler, "In the second half, we came out with a little bit more energy. In the first half we lacked that energy."