The Syracuse Orange women’s basketball team really needed to win this one, and they did.
As this one got under way in Chapel Hill, it looked like both teams were really trying to feel each other out early. SU really didn’t hit their stride until the end of the first, thanks to a couple of three pointers from Emily Engstler.
After an Engstler foul and two free throws for UNC, the Orange took a 17-16 lead into the second quarter. Kiara Lewis was also able to find her groove as she knocked down back to back jumpers to give Syracuse a 24-16 lead early in the second. Her mid-range jumper was on fire today, and UNC had no answer for it early. The Heels wouldn’t score for over five minutes, as their first field goal came on a Janelle Bailey jumper with 4:54 remaining in the quarter. Taleah Washington immediately followed that with a three, and the Orange were up 29-18. Syracuse was playing good defense, but the Heels were also missing a lot of shots that usually fall for them. The ‘Cuse in their platinum grey jerseys ended the half strong, as another Engstler three along with a Taleah Washington layup put the Orange up 35-23 at half.
As the second half got underway, North Carolina cut the lead to seven after a Madinah Muhhammad jumper, and that forced Coach Q to take a timeout. Digna Strautmane followed the timeout with a three, and she followed that with another one just a minute later. Another minute would pass before either team scored, but luckily it was another Strautmane three and the Orange were up 46-32. Syracuse was able to use extremely poor shooting by the Heels to take a twenty point lead after back to back shots from behind the arc by Engstler and Gabrielle Cooper.
The Orange were up after three 60-38. Emily Engstler was able to get her ninth double-double of the year halfway through the third, as she has emerged as one of the most under the radar players in the ACC. With the way UNC was playing, the lead pretty much seemed insurmountable. The Heels were able to get some of their scoring going in the fourth, but the deficit was simply too much. The two teams traded buckets which usually bodes well with the team winning by a lot, and Syracuse was able to take this one convincingly, 74-56. The Orange dominated on the road against a pretty good conference opponent, and things are really starting to get interesting here.
Madinah Muhammad was pretty good offensively for UNC, as she scored 19 points going 7-19 from the field. Malu Tshitenge put up a double-double in the Heels losing effort, scoring 11 points and grabbing 11 boards. Kiara Lewis and Digna Strautmane each scored 17 points leading the Orange, but today was all about Emily Engstler, who scored 16 points and grabbed 15 rebounds. From the field, Syracuse shot .444% (love to see it) compared to UNC, who shot just .292%. Syracuse made 12 three pointers Thursday night, which was the first time they made over 10 since the start of the new year.
The win helps a lot for Syracuse. They now sit at 13-11, and 7-6 in the ACC, and still have plenty of work to do. That means not dropping a must-win Sunday against a bad Pittsburgh squad.