For a brief moment, it looked like the good ole' days for Brittney Sykes and the Syracuse Orange.
She took a fastbreak pass, sliced in from the left corner and sprung off the Carrier Dome court for a layup. Sykes, back in her home white jersey and matching headband, darted down the floor and past the defense. It culminated in another picture perfect moment as the junior guard hung in the air for her first basket of the day.
It was back to normal for Sykes, who helped out Syracuse's transition offense and aggressive defense in the team's 74-43 win over Central Connecticut State on Tuesday night. She played in her second game, after missing an NCAA Tournament match and almost the entire non-conference slate recovering from a torn right ACL.
Throughout the season, Hillsman and the Orange salivated over the team's potential once Sykes returned to the lineup. They finally saw the outcome as No. 21/22 Syracuse had a balanced game on both ends of the floor and forced 28 turnovers from the Blue Devils. Hillsman even called it one of their most "complete" games of the year.
"Our pressure was very good and I thought that when we got into our press, we were able to force the tempo," Hillsman said. "Obviously, the more shots you make and the more free throws you get, the more times you can press."
The Orange (10-3) led for the entire night after Brianna Butler broke a scoreless tie just over a minute into the game. The Orange used its up-tempo style and interior defense to dominate the Blue Devils and head into ACC play on a high note. Briana Day had 11 points, nine rebounds and seven assists and came close to getting the team's first triple-double in almost thirty years.
The Orange is playing some of its best basketball, and doing so with its best player just starting to contribute.
Sykes' first half field goal was a reminder of the player the Orange get back, one who led the team last season by averaging almost 17 points a game. But, that play also showed signs (both visual and symbolical) of how much things have changed over the past few months.
For one, she was wearing a large brace on her right knee, the final sign of her extensive recovery process.
Second, the play was one of only a few highlights for Sykes on the night. Last year, the Orange relied on her for the bulk of its scoring. But for now, she's easing her way back as a role player in a deep lineup. She had five points on 2-7 shooting. In both games, she's played fewer than 20 minutes.
"It's my second game back," Sykes said. "I'm just still trying to get the kinks out. I just have to learn how to fight through the frustration, knowing that it's going to come back later. But I'm happy with my play. I'm happy where I'm at. And as the games go on, I can only get better from there."
And finally, Sykes' basket was assisted by Diamond Henderson, the first time that's ever happened. Henderson transferred from Tennessee Tech this offseason and, quickly, has become an offensive leader. She led all players with 15 points on Tuesday and ranks third on the Orange in scoring.
"I just couldn't wait to play with her and be on the same floor as her," Sykes said. "Just watching her in those 11 games and even in practice, I knew from the jump she was a great scorer."
Henderson scored twice during Syracuse's 10-0 run to end the first half. Early in December, she had three straight games with five points or less. Since then, she's rolled off four in a row with at least 14 points.
"Every good scorer gets into a slump so I'm glad I had mine early in the beginning," Henderson said.