March 1, 2010
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) – Losing close games had become a problem for Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman. Erica Morrow finally gave the Orange the jolt they needed.
Fresh from a one-game suspension, Morrow scored 23 points Monday night as Syracuse overcame a 14-point deficit in the first half and stunned No. 7 West Virginia 67-48.
“After halftime we talked and said that we needed to come together for this win,” said Morrow, who swished a 3 from the top of the key at the buzzer to pull the Orange within 34-30 at halftime. “That cannot be the face of this program, we have to go out there and finish out games. I think we worked really hard as a team.”
Syracuse (20-9, 7-9 Big East) had lost three conference games at home by a combined six points to teams currently ranked in the top 16 in the AP poll – Notre Dame, Georgetown, and St. John’s – and this one seemed headed for oblivion when the Mountaineers raced to a 22-8 lead less than 9 minutes into the game.
This time, the Orange, who reached 20 wins in a season for only the fourth time, came through even after senior night was somewhat spoiled by an injury to Nicole Michael, the school’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder. She left the game for good after injuring her right foot with 14:35 left and the Orange clinging to a 40-37 lead. Michael finished with eight points and seven rebounds.
“We had to come together because we all knew that things were kind of shaky and the atmosphere was different because it was senior night,” senior Juanita Ward said. “We just stayed together with each other. We were just out there encouraging each other and saying that we still had the power to win this game.”
West Virginia (26-4, 13-3) had only lost to teams ranked in the top five and had won six straight since an 80-47 loss at No. 1 Connecticut. But the Mountaineers, with the fourth-ranked defense in the nation, had the tables turned in this one. They were 3 of 21 shooting (14.3 percent) and scored just 14 points after the break, though they still clinched second place in the conference.
“Obviously, it’s a disappointing loss for us. We wanted to finish strong and have momentum going into the Big East tournament,” associate head coach George Porcha said. Head coach Mike Carey was sick and did not make the trip.
“We got killed on the boards, but that’s something we will correct,” Porcha said. “We’ve still got everything to play for. We’re not going to let this one game hold us down. It’s a setback, but we’ll build from it and come back strong.”
The Orange outrebounded West Virginia 54-36 – including 27-10 on the offensive end – and forced 28 turnovers that led to 28 points.
Liz Repella, West Virginia’s leading scorer, scored the game’s first five points. However, after making one of two free throws with 8:14 left in the first half, she did not score again until making a pullup jumper with 1:58 remaining in the game and finished with 11 points. Sarah Miles had eight points, all in the first half.
Syracuse gained control with a 25-6 spurt to start the second half. Ward, who finished with 10 points and nine rebounds, converted a follow of a missed 3 by Michael to give Syracuse a 36-35 lead with 18:17 left and the Orange steadily pulled away.
Morrow, who was ejected for fighting in a home loss last week to Connecticut, hit a driving scoop and swished a 3 from the top of the key after a steal by Elashier Hall to give Syracuse a 47-39 lead with 12:27 to go.
A win seemed improbable at the outset. Syracuse missed its first five 3-point attempts and shot 11 of 41 (26.8 percent) in the opening half. With just under 8 minutes remaining in the period, Syracuse was 4 of 30 from the floor despite a 12-3 advantage on offensive rebounds.
When Repella hit a jumper in the lane at 11:20, the Mountaineers led 22-8. But the Orange defense tightened, forcing 14 turnovers in the period, and Syracuse closed the half with a 10-4 spurt to pull to 34-30.
Two years ago, the Orange upset the 14th-ranked Mountaineers 73-51 in the Carrier Dome. It was one of the biggest wins in school history and kept the Orange on target for only the fourth NCAA tournament berth in the program’s 39-year history.