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Syracuse 76, Cornell 59: Orange Dominate Second Half in Sykes' Season Opener

The Orange got back to its winning ways with its junior guard back in the lineup.

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

For the past nine months, it's been the moment she's been waiting for.

Brittney Sykes walked onto the Carrier Dome court in uniform for the first time this season. She made her season debut in Syracuse's 76-59 victory over the Cornell Big Red on Sunday night.

Still, the team's outgoing and outspoken leader was left speechless for a few seconds when asked about her emotion as the game was about to begin.  But, eventually, she found the right phrase to characterize her comeback, a nine-month journey that began when she tore her ACL in the NCAA Tournament.

"I guess the word that sums it up is finally," Sykes said.  "This many months away from your team, playing on the floor with them and preparing for games.  It just feels good to get back with them and be with them on the court."

Sykes went 1-4 and had two points in 18 minutes.  But she helped out in other ways, though, with seven rebounds and by drawing a few charges at the top of Syracuse's zone.

"It was good to have her back,' Quentin Hillsman said.  "Just for her to have those minutes, to get the rebounds, get on top of our press and be really athletic and a couple charges -- it's the same play she made last year.  So she's back to normal."

Like Sykes, the Orange started somewhat sluggishly in the first half.  And at halftime, Cornell actually led by two, which marked the first time Syracuse has trailed at intermission all season.

But Hillsman made some lineup changes in the second half, including one point when he subbed out all five players.  Syracuse's depth proved to be the difference in the game as the team finished the night on a 40-14 run.  Diamond Henderson scored 14 and Cornelia Fondren added ten, as the Orange more than doubled the Big Red in bench points.

"Their group turned the game around," Hillsman said.  "I thought they did a really good job of getting us playing fast.  I thought they did a really good job of starting to set some presses -- making them make extra passes before they got into any offense.  That was the difference in the game."

Then with just 1:59 left in the game, Sykes scored her first and only field goal on a layup set up by Alexis Peterson.

"It felt good to finally put the ball in the basket," Sykes said. "I knew I could do it. It was just a matter of me doing it."