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Syracuse WBB 59 - Fordham 42: Orange Rocks Rams in Season Opener

Alexis Peterson scored a career-high 19 points for Syracuse. The Orange used a second half push to hold off the Fordham Rams to start the season.

Nate Shron

For the first 17 minutes of the game, the shot just weren't falling for Syracuse. Quentin Hillsman tried several combinations - including using 11 different players in the first half - but seemingly each time, the result was the same.

Miss after miss. Inside, outside and in the paint.

And then, suddenly, the smallest player on the court played the biggest role.  Alexis Peterson, Syracuse's 5-foot-7 point guard, hit a mid-range jumper and tied the game at 18.

Then she did it again. Peterson hit a short floater, turned around and pumped her fist.

And with three second left in the half, Peterson sank one last shot. She got separation from her defender with a slick crossover and gave Syracuse a 22-21 halftime lead.

Peterson scored a career-high 19 points in Syracuse's season opener.  Her breakout performance propelled the Orange to a 59-42 win over the Fordham Rams, despite a sluggish shooting game.

"It was really exciting," Peterson said. "We were all excited to get going and I just felt like I had to step up and help my teammates out."

Peterson carried the Syracuse offense, which was missing its leader, the dynamic guard Brittney Sykes. Sykes is recovering from an ACL tear and Hillsman said it's unlikely that she will play on Wednesday, either.

Without Sykes, the Orange offense looked lifeless to start of the game and didn't register a field goal for an eight minute and 20 second stretch at one point. The Rams took advantage with an early 8-0 run that gave them a 10-9 lead.  Syracuse started the game just 5-27 from the floor, but it looked even worse than that.

"It felt like we were 5-227, to be honest with you," Hillsman joked.  "It seemed like every shot we took we did not make."

Then Syracuse hit the last four shots before intermission, including Peterson's three jumpers and a layup from Brianna Butler.

And when the Orange came back for the second half, it didn't miss a beat.  Peterson drew a foul in the paint and then sank a pair of free throws, making it eight straight points from the sophomore. It began an 11-2 run for Syracuse to open up the half and the Rams would never recapture the lead again.

Behind Peterson, Syracuse's leading scorers were Taylor Ford with 11 and Cornelia Fondren with eight.

"It's the first half of the first game so we came out a little frazzled," Butler said.  "We were out there going hard, but we were playing faster than we usually do. In the second half, coach told us we just have to make shots and play our game and settle down."

The Orange defense tightened up, only allowing 14 points in the paint. With more scoring from his team in the second half, Hillsman was able to get his defense set and press more.  Syracuse forced 22 turnovers in the game and used the transition game more in the second half to set up easy shots.

"It was all about getting our pressure set so we could be athletic," Hillsman said.  "It's tough to get your pressure set when you're not hitting shots. In the first half, we couldn't make shots so we couldn't get into our press. And that really hurts. That's a big part of what we do."

Britt Zappei hit a three to cut the Syracuse lead to 36-31, but Peterson responded with a triple of her own and then another jumper.  Peterson then came to the bench for almost three minutes when she got a cramp in her left leg.

But Peterson returned to the court for one last shot, one last floater from the ACC logo, which was the cherry on top of a career night.