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Syracuse WBB 68, Pittsburgh 54: Orange Dominates Second Half In Home Finale

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The No. 25 Syracuse Orange (20-8, 10-5 ACC) held the Panthers to 13 points in a one-sided second half and capped off Senior Night on a good note.

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Quentin Hillsman made his case as clear as it could get during intermission after watching one of his team's worst defensive halves of the season.

If Syracuse won, it would be heading to the NCAA Tournament.

If Syracuse lost, it would be NIT bound.

The stakes, perhaps, weren't actually that high on Sunday, but the Orange played like they were in the second half.  Players diving on the court. A center helping out the full court press with a steal at midcourt.  Aggressive traps that forced errant passes.

The Orange (20-8, 10-5 ACC) bounced back with one of their best halves of the season and used that defensive intensity and urgency to beat the Pittsburgh Panthers, 68-54, in the Carrier Dome. After giving up a whopping 41 points in the first half, Syracuse only allowed 13 thereafter.

"You know you're not going to lose when you're playing that way," Quentin Hillsman said.  "I think we're talented enough to win basketball games.  But I think that if we can play with that kind of passion and that kind of energy, it will be hard for us to lose."

Before the game, Hillsman explained to his team why it needed to win.  He told his players what the standings looked like and how many good wins Syracuse had as proof why they had to beat the Panthers.  Even though the Orange is projected to be a No. 7 seed, it only has one win against a ranked team.

His message didn't sink immediately.

Pittsburgh broke through Syracuse's zone in the first half with good passing and avoiding making the high volume of turnovers that the Orange thrives on.  The Panthers opened up their lead with aggressive play in the paint that gave way to a 15-6 run near the end of the first half.

Twice, a Panther guard drove to the hoop, drew a defender and gave a drop pass at the last moment to Yacine Diop for an open layup.

Hillsman called a timeout with 54 seconds left in the first half to eviscerate his team, even throwing his clipboard on the court at one point.  His halftime speech was so animated that even the opposing coach heard him from across the hall.

"He told us that we weren't really playing with a lot of energy on defense," Alexis Peterson said.  "We were being a little lackadaisical so we just tried to regroup and come back out in the second half and play a lot harder."

The Orange did just that, allowing fewer points in the second half than all but one half this season. After Briana Day's layup tied the game at 50, Syracuse never trailed again.

Day had 15 points, 18 rebounds and five blocks for the Orange, who secured its sixth straight season with at least 20 wins.  With that performance, Day moved up to third place on Syracuse's single season rebounding list and is seven away from the record.  She posted her 12th double-double of the season and nearly became only the second player in team history to score 20 points and have 20 rebounds in a game.

It was such an impressive all-around effort that even the usually modest Day had to step back and appreciate what she accomplished.

"When stuff happens like that, I'm just like 'wow', Day said.  "I did play pretty good."

Day and the Orange forced 13 turnovers in the second half, guiding the team to its third win in a row.

Said Day, "We were playing together and playing really hard.  When you do all that, we're hard to beat."