WBB: Syracuse Loses to NC State in ACC Opener

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The No. 20/24 Syracuse Orange lost its ACC opener in Raleigh to the NC State Wolfpack. While the Wolfpack isn't ranked, it has an impressive 14-1 record and a long history of success.

Syracuse's Brianna Butler has played her best basketball on the road this season. In scoring 17 points on Sunday, Butler now has five of her six biggest scoring performances away from the Carrier Dome. Unfortunately for Syracuse, Butler has been an anomaly - as a team, the Orange has struggled in true road games even with her performances.

That trend continued on Sunday afternoon, when the Syracuse Orange (11-3, 0-1 ACC) lost 67-61, to the NC State Wolfpack (14-1, 1-0) in Raleigh.

The Orange has played four road games, not including its neutral-site tournament in St. Thomas. With the loss, Syracuse dropped to 1-3 in these games. The lone win came in a four-point victory against Washington State, a team Syracuse was expected to crush. In fairness to the Orange, the three losses all came against tough competition. Iowa and Arizona State were both ranked, and NC State will likely jump into the top 25 this week.

Butler's 17 points was a team-high and came on 4-10 shooting. She was able to draw several fouls and get to the free throw line, where she was a perfect 6-6. The sophomore guard, normally an outside shooting threat, did a good job inside and around the basket to make plays.

Other than Butler, Syracuse struggled to score, particularly in the second half. Brittney Sykes had a season-low nine points (all in the first half) and never was able to get comfortable. It was an uncharacteristic performance for one of the ACC's leading scorers.

One bright spot on offense was La'Shay Taft, who scored 11 points. She hit back-to-back threes late in the first half, which helped Syracuse go into intermission with a four point lead. Taft's layup at the 13:47 mark in the second half put the Orange up ten, in what would end up being its largest lead of the game.

The crafty, veteran-laden Wolfpack calmly chipped away at that lead. Kody Burke's and-one layup put NC State up one point with 2:32 left. Butler responded with a three, to give her team a 61-59 edge. The Orange didn't score again and the Wolfpack closed the game on an 8-0 run. Syracuse would have relied on Sykes in the last few back-and-forth minutes. But Sykes fouled out with 5:28 left and was hampered by foul trouble all day.

The Wolfpack only turned the ball over ten times against Syracuse's press defense. It forced Syracuse to play almost the entire game in its half-court offense. More importantly, it prevented the Orange from getting two of its stables - points off turnovers and fast breaks. The Orange shot only 33 percent, even worse from inside the arc. Aside from Taft, Briana Day was the only player who shot the ball at an efficient percentage. Day went 3-3 for seven points. Even in a limited role, Day played very well back in her home state.

In NC State, Syracuse saw an image of what it wants to become: a model of consistency in the ACC. The Wolfpack has reached the Sweet 16 a remarkable 14 times in the last 35 years. Syracuse has yet to win a single game in the tournament.

It was only fitting that Syracuse's first conference game of the season was a matchup between the ACC's old guard and the new guard. The Wolfpack has played in the ACC for the past sixty years. The Orange now has one day to its record.

NC State is a longtime pillar of women's basketball dominance in the conference. You only have to look at where the Wolfpack play. Kay Yow Court is dedicated to the team's late great coach who won four ACC titles and over 600 games. Yow became the first female coach to reach the pro basketball Hall of Fame.

And on Sunday, a total of 3,485 fans came to watch. That attendance would be a dream come true for the Syracuse athletic department, more accustomed to seeing 300.

On the other hand, Syracuse is the "new rich". It enters the ACC as an unproven commodity, but an up-and-comer. The Orange is ranked No. 20 in the AP Poll and has been in the top 25 for much of the past 12 months. Quentin Hillsman's highly ranked recruiting classes signal that the Orange is going in the right direction.

Even the teams' current makeup is a contrast between old and young. Syracuse's roster and scoring is filled by freshman and sophomores. For NC State, all five starters were either juniors or seniors.

For Hillsman, of course, none of this matters. The only direction he cares about is the short-term one - and right now his Orange are on a two-game losing streak after starting 11-1. It doesn't get any easier for Syracuse, either, in search of its first ACC win. The Orange host the No. 3 Duke Blue Devils on Thursday.

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