Orange Glow vs. Scarlet Knights
Jan. 7, 2009
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) -- Quentin Hillsman said his Syracuse Orange played a masterful game. Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer had nothing much good to say about her struggling Scarlet Knights.
Nicole Michael had 15 points and 14 rebounds, Erica Morrow scored 17 points, and Syracuse upset No. 17 Rutgers 68-54 on Tuesday night.
Rutgers (8-4, 0-1 Big East) was coming off a disheartening 55-51 home loss on Saturday to Tennessee, a game in which the Scarlet Knights blew a 33-13 halftime lead. This time they lost to a team they had beaten 29 times in 32 previous meetings as Syracuse (12-3, 1-1) remained unbeaten in eight games at home.
"It's a great feeling," Michael said. "My mom just called me and said, `Finally.' "
Epiphanny Prince led Rutgers with 23 points and seven rebounds, including the 100th 3-pointer of her career. She was the only Scarlet Knight in double figures as four freshmen received plenty of playing time.
Senior center Kia Vaughn had six points and five rebounds in 22 minutes for Rutgers as the Scarlet Knights were outrebounded 48-44. The Orange also matched them with 18 offensive boards.
Chandrea Jones had 16 points and nine rebounds for the Orange, who held Rutgers to just one basket over the final 4:33--a 3 by Prince in the final minute.
"We didn't have anybody that came to play today, simple as that," Stringer said. "We've played a very easy schedule, by and large. If the upperclassmen were doing what they should have been doing, those freshmen would have got a lot of experience. But we're barely getting by, so I decided we're going to win or lose the game, I'm going to play the freshmen. They don't know what they're doing, but I thought I'd give them a chance anyway."
Freshman Chelsey Lee was 3-for-5 from the floor for eight points, but classmates Brooklyn Pope, April Sykes and Nikki Speed failed to score, combining to shoot 0-for-8. The four combined to play 57 minutes.
Rutgers was 20-for-68 (29.4 percent) from the floor and 4-for-18 on 3-pointers against the Syracuse zone. Prince, often with the four freshmen on the floor with her, was 7-for-25 and was on the bench with four fouls when Syracuse finally gained control of the game.
"I didn't want to take myself out of the game," Prince said. "I knew I couldn't do that with four freshmen on the floor. I tried to stay aggressive."
After Morrow hit a 3 off an inbounds pass to give the Orange a 35-27 lead with 14:52 left, Prince led the Scarlet Knights on a 12-0 run.
Heather Zurich began the spurt with a jumper from left wing. Prince then evaded two defenders on a drive through the lane for a pretty layup and drained a 3 from the top of the key to move Rutgers within a point. Vaughn's layup, the first of her two baskets in the game, gave the Scarlet Knights a 36-35 lead at 12:08.
Jones made two free throws for the Orange to halt the slide, but Brittany Ray's 3-pointer from right wing and a lay-in by Vaughn boosted the Rutgers lead to 44-37 midway through the half.
Syracuse rallied to tie it as Juanita Ward converted a scoop and foul-line jumper and Vionca Murray followed with a three-point play, making it 44-all with 8:30 left.
Troya Berry then converted two layups in a 30-second span to give the Orange a 48-46 lead and they never trailed again.
"We had to just match their physical play, rebound the ball, and limit our turnovers," Morrow said. "We just had to execute our game plan, not blow any assignments, and like coach says in practice, just play hard. That's all coach asks of us every night and that's what we did. That's what kept us in the game."
Michael followed by swishing a 3 from the left corner off a feed from Morrow and two free throws each by Murray and Jones boosted the lead to 56-48 with 4:11 left.
Morrow's 13-foot jumper from the left side gave the Orange a 10-point lead with 1:55 left.
A year ago, Hillsman orchestrated a dramatic turnaround in the Syracuse program as the Orange moved into the national rankings for the first time in school history, closing the regular season with a convincing victory over No. 14 West Virginia.
But the Orange fizzled in the postseason, losing in the first round of the Big East tournament and the NCAA tournament, and a loss to Division II Alaska Anchorage in November made them an afterthought so far this season.
"We have new players on the team, and for everyone to get comfortable, it just took time for us to know that we are a good team and to play comfortable," Michael said. "Coach said before the game, `Don't think bad, think good all the time, no matter who we're playing. We did that as a team and came together."