The message was loud and clear from Quentin Hillsman on the Syracuse sideline.
Just before, his point guard airmailed a pass from the right baseline into the scorer's table, well out of the reach of any Syracuse or Virginia player. It was an unusual sight for Hillsman, whose team leads the ACC in turnover margin and ranks fifth in the country in that department.
Alexis Peterson quickly responded by pickpocketing a Cavalier forward on the next play and driving coast-to-coast for an uncontested layup. Peterson scored 16 points and had five assists, a major reason why Syracuse (11-5, 1-2) hung on to beat Virginia, 70-58, in the Carrier Dome for its first ACC win of the season.
"She's our lifeline," Hillsman said. "The ball is in her hands at all times and as she goes, we go. She's been going so we're going. I'm just really happy for her because she has the opportunity to kind of lay down and not to play tough with the load of minutes that she's playing. She plays tremendously hard and she's very passionate, very enthusiastic and very intense."
The first ten points for Syracuse were all from Peterson, who leads the team in scoring with 14.2 points per game. For most of the day, she didn't have to apologize for her play, a good combination of driving to the basket with some outside shooting mixed in. But after being berated by Hillsman for an errant crosscourt pass, she couldn't help but feel a little bit vindicated by pulling off another highlight-reel play just moments later.
"It's a good feeling," Peterson said with a grin. "But, you know, he only wants the best. It's going to happen. Turnovers are going to happen. It's just how you bounce back and move on to the next play."
Like Peterson, Syracuse bounced back by outplaying a talented Virginia team after losing both conference games to ranked teams. Hillsman called it the best win of the season to beat the Cavs, who are unranked but whose 12-4 record shows that they are one of the best teams in the ACC.
"Going into this game, I wasn't really shy with our players by telling them that this was a must-win," Hillsman said. "I thought that we had to have this game. This was a must-win. It was a critical game for us."
Peterson gave the Orange an early advantage, but the Cavs were able to cut down the lead to 21-17 by initially shutting down Syracuse's secondary scoring options. Brianna Butler shot just 2-12, continuing what's been a regressing season for the junior guard. The Orange didn't built up its big lead until late in the first half when its bench players started giving Peterson some offensive support.
When Diamond Henderson knocked down a three to go up 24-17, it was the first field goal for Syracuse not made by Peterson or center Briana Day.
Then came an outside shooting barrage from Maggie Morrison, who had four 3-pointers in the last six minutes before intermission. The last one came off a broken play, when a Cavalier defender deflected a Cornelia Fondren pass to Morrison in the right corner. Morrison scrambled to take an off-balance three with the shot clock running down, but it went in and gave the Orange its 18 point halftime lead.
Morrison hasn't played very well this season, but she set a career high with 12 points on Sunday because the Cavs opted to leave the 29 percent shooter open for most of the game.
"They left me open for the most part because I miss most of my shots," Morrison joked. "They were just falling today. It was good."