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WBB: Syracuse's Press Propels Orange Past Vermont

The Syracuse women's basketball team rebounded from a near-upset of No. 1 South Carolina. The Orange forced 32 turnovers and defeated the Catamounts, 94-63, in the Carrier Dome.

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

By the time she stopped running, Diamond Henderson was standing next to the press table about five rows back from the court.  Henderson was trying to steal an inbounds pass in the right corner. She didn't get the turnover.

On the next play, she finally did.

Henderson picked off a pass near the middle of the court and had a clear path to the basket for any easy layup. Like so many times, Syracuse used its pressure to turn defense into offense.

The Orange forced a season-high 22 steals and used its persistent press defense to overcome a slow start.  Syracuse (5-1) beat the Vermont Catamounts, 94-63, on Monday night in the Carrier Dome, in large part because of Henderson's defensive intensity.  She led the Orange with 16 points, while adding three steals.

"You just hope she returns and doesn't run into the tunnel going for Christmas," Quentin Hillsman joked on seeing his guard run off the court.  "It's good. You love to see extra effort and our players always do that and play hard."

Henderson's steal-and-score on the ensuing play was part of four straight turnovers that Syracuse forced in a two-minute span.  She intercepted another pass 35 seconds later, but found herself sitting on the court with the ball and a pair of Catamounts towering over her.  Somehow, she threw an overhead pass to Cornelia Fondren at the top of the key, who found Maggie Morrison for a wide open three.

"It's great for our team to see that type of hustle and to see that type of energy," point guard Alexis Peterson said.  "If one player brings that type of enthusiasm and that type of effort, it gets us all going and gets us all wanting to play the same way and pick it up."

And the extra effort came at the perfect time for Hillsman.  The Catamounts cut down Syracuse's 13 point halftime lead to just six.  That's when Syracuse went on a 20-0 run and held Vermont scoreless for five minutes and 47 seconds of game time.  At times, the Catamounts couldn't even inbound the ball or advance past half court.  The Orange scored with ease in the second half, which gave Syracuse more chances to apply pressure.

"You have to score to be able to press," Hillsman said.  "I think that was the biggest thing for us.  We were able to score and get our defense set."

The biggest concern for Syracuse coming into the season was finding scoring without Brittney Sykes, who's still recovering from an ACL injury.  That's one of the reasons why Hillsman added Henderson, a transfer from Tennessee Tech.  In Syracuse's season opener, she played only 11 minutes.  But since then, she's quickly worked her way into the rotation by averaging 23.2 minutes in the last five games and scoring at least ten points in all but one of them.

"She understood that without Brittney, we needed someone to come in and score the basketball for us," Hillsman said.  "And then if she brings in a little bit of defense, we'll be in good shape."

Syracuse's other transfer, Morrison, added a career-high 11 points.  Morrison sat out last season after coming over from Vanderbilt.  That long wait, Morrison said, makes nights like these even sweeter.

"It almost kind of makes it, in a sense, easier," Morrison said.  "Because I did have the year to sit out, but I got to learn what each of my teammates does, what they do well and what they need for me. It let me just step right in."