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Despite Season Worst 3-Point Shooting, Orange Claws Back Against Struggling Hokies

On a night when the Orange shot just 24 percent from the field, it forced just enough turnovers and got to the free throw line just enough to pull away with a win against Virginia Tech

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

No matter how poorly Brianna Butler is playing, the message is always the same from Quentin Hillsman.

Keep shooting.

Hillsman's carte blanche mentality towards Butler and his team's 3-point shooting was, perhaps, best exemplified during Syracuse's 59-51 win over the Virginia Tech Hokies on Sunday.  The Orange shot 0-17 from behind-the-arc in the first half, but got a a pair of late game 3's from Butler that lifted the team to a comeback win in the Cassell Coliseum.

Butler scored 19 points on 6-19 shooting, Briana Day recorded her 11th double-double of the season and the Orange hung on for an ugly win on the road.

"I thought we did an excellent job of just gutting it out, being tough and ending the game on a strong run," Hillsman told Cuse TV.

Virginia Tech led by seven with just 4:09 to go, but the combination of Butler's shooting, the Hokies' foul trouble and the Orange's clutch free throw shooting was too much to handle in the final few minutes. Syracuse went on an 18-3 run to end the game and barely avoided losing its second straight game to an unranked team.

"It's a style thing," Hillsman said. "I knew it would be a tough game for us because they play a style that's hard for us to play against in the zone and running in traps and out of our press.  It's a hard style to get ready for."

The Hokies own a conference worst 1-12 record in ACC play and had lost five straight games coming into Sunday's matchup.  But they led for more than half of the game and held Syracuse to its worst single game shooting percentage (23.7) of the season.

"People look at records and I look at styles," Hillsman said.  "They're a 3-point shooting team that can really spread you out and they got post players that can really play off the bounce."

The Orange was coming off of a loss to Miami, which Hillsman called the team's worst game of the season.  Though he took full responsibility for a slow start in that game, his team came out flat again in Blacksburg. Syracuse missed its first eight shots, until Briana Day finally ended the field goal drought with 16:44 to go in the first half.  Day scored again about a minute later and gave Syracuse a comfortable rebounding advantage early on.  It still wasn't enough, given the offensive futility around her.

At one point, Day shot 2-3 and the rest of the team was 0-10.

The first Syracuse field goal not produced by Day didn't come until more than eight minutes into the half when Alexis Peterson drove to the lane for a layup.

A big reason for the early shooting struggles was because Syracuse shot almost as many 3's in the first half (17) as it shot 2's (18).

Last week, Hillsman said that he wants his team to do whatever it takes to make as many 3-pointers as his opponent. Even if it means that Syracuse, the second worst outside shooting team in the ACC, has to take off-balance shots, take contested shots or take every shot of the game from behind-the-arc.

"Even if it takes going 7-for-94," Hillsman said last week.  "If they make seven, we'll make seven."

His statement, while hyperbolic, foreshadowed Syracuse's game plan on Sunday against Virginia Tech.  Six different players missed a 3-pointer before intermission.  Before Sunday, Syracuse had made at least one 3-pointer in 50 consecutive halves to start the season.

The worst offender was Butler, who had the unfortunate distinction of going 0-7 in the first half.  She's on pace to shatter team single season records for most field goal attempts and 3-pointer attempts, despite being the lowest percentage shooter in Syracuse's rotation for parts of the season.

She bounced back in the second half, shooting an improved 3-6 from behind-the-arc.  It ignited the comeback for Syracuse, whose 27-of-35 made free throws helped ice the game.

The final blow was Butler's 3 with 1:39 left that gave back Syracuse the lead, one it would not relinquish.

Said Hillsman, "If Brianna Butler doesn't make shots tonight, we lose. Period."