The Syracuse Orange is slowly, but surely, figuring out life without Brittney Sykes.
The team's top guard and best scorer continues her recovery from knee surgery, yet the Orange hasn't skipped a beat. Syracuse (3-0) stayed perfect in non-conference play on Saturday with a 77-61 win over the Jacksonville Dolphins in the Swisher Gymnasium.
Sykes hasn't played in any of Syracuse's three games so far this season and she - and coach Quentin Hillsman - hasn't indicated a clear timeline for when she'll return. The Orange can't afford to be without her for ACC play, but it's gotten enough scoring so far this season against lesser competition.
Brianna Butler shot 4-6 from behind-the-arc and scored 11 of her team-high 16 points in the first half. She's the third different player in three games to lead Syracuse in points, in its makeshift offense without Sykes.
"I think everybody has a little different role, but everybody brings something totally different to the table," guard Maggie Morrison said. "I think each of us kind of plays off of each other. Some people are good at driving, some people are good at shooting, some people can pass, and some people are quicker."
The Orange fell behind Duquesne early on in its last outing, but didn't waste any time putting away the Dolphins. Syracuse opened the game on an 8-0 run, after hitting its first four shots. Jacksonville mounted a quick comeback and took a 13-11 lead just a few minutes later from a Sherranda Reddick jumper.
That's when Syracuse's guard combination of Butler and Diamond Henderson took over. Butler sank a three pointer and then Henderson scored the game's next eight points. It was part of an overpowering 32-8 run that Syracuse went on at the end of the first half to break open the game.
"I thought I would struggle at first," Henderson said. "But Coach is a wonderful person and the team welcomed me in and accepted my leadership and my role."
Henderson scored 14 points and has secured a spot in Hillsman's rotation, after a quiet opening performance. The Tennessee Tech transfer has shot 50 percent from three (6-12) this season, stabilizing an area the Orange severely lacked in last season.
"Our newcomers are tremendous," Hillsman said. "They've bought into our system and they're competing at a high level. And everything they do every day is making us better as a basketball team."
The Orange went to intermission with a 43-21 lead and led by double digits for the rest of the game. With Henderson, Syracuse's offense has gotten a little bit better with each game. Although the Orange couldn't match its 90-point output against Duquesne, it was much more efficient on Saturday in fewer possessions. Syracuse shot a season best 48.1 percent and were able to capitalize on Jacksonville's 21 turnovers.
Coach Q's squad is off until Thanksgiving. The Orange faces East Carolina in the first round of the Junkanoo Jam in the Bahamas.