Lewis’ game-winner lifts Syracuse to 67-65 comeback win over Virginia Tech

first_img Published on January 30, 2020 at 10:11 pm Contact Andrew: [email protected] | @CraneAndrew Facebook Twitter Google+ Maeva Djaldi-Tabdi had already reached the elbow and set her screen, but Kiara Lewis didn’t drive. Lewis wanted to pass. Djaldi-Tabdi stood motionless — her arms crossed — and waited. Head Coach Quentin Hillsman leaned over the sideline, tracking Lewis as she skipped right, hesitated and drove around the pick. He considered a timeout, but Virginia Tech might’ve dropped into zone making a sideline out-of-bounds play difficult.All Lewis needed to do was finish the layup, but just 20 game minutes earlier Syracuse’s best player had only four points, zero field goals and a handful of forced shots that had squashed Syracuse possessions. Lewis clenched her jaw in the opening half when her attempts to draw contact turned into heaves off the backboard. But she flipped during a 15-point second half and, with five seconds left, Lewis capitalized off the step she gained on Virginia Tech’s Taja Cole, giving Syracuse the lead with just five seconds left.“I knew if Kiki could get to the screen, we had a chance to get downhill,” Hillsman said. Lewis’ game-winner allowed Syracuse to complete a 16-point comeback against the Hokies that seemed impossible for the first three quarters. Losses in the last two weeks to Wake Forest, Georgia Tech and Duke loomed over SU as the Hokies built their lead — creeping the Orange closer to an 11th loss that’s been incurred only three times in the last 10 years. Despite only leading Virginia Tech (15-5, 5-4 Atlantic Coast) for 1:32, Syracuse (10-10, 4-5) escaped the Carrier Dome with a 67-65 victory to halt its spiraling season and preserve postseason hopes for at least another game.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“They didn’t fold in situations,” Hillsman said. “You have be tough to take shots when you’re not making them.”It didn’t take Virginia Tech long to find openings. After Syracuse’s second of three-straight makes to open the game, Cole pushed the ball toward midcourt as the Orange’s press collapsed. The graduate transfer thrusted her elbow toward the right block, firing a pass by a creeping Digna Strautmane and into the hands of a wide-open Lydia Rivers, who converted the layup.The Hokies started cutting through the zone, not settling for 3-pointers and not depending on the interior openings. Quick pivots and flip passes determined those spots. Mirroring that was a perfect shooting percentage turning disastrous when Lewis started forcing shots from the elbows and low passes.All that resulted in a seven-point first quarter and a nearly 10-minute scoring drought for the Orange. Lewis, Syracuse’s eventual hero, didn’t even make a field goal until 6:15 left in the third quarter.But, this time, the Orange recovered. Virginia Tech struggled with early foul trouble, Amaya Finklea-Guity said, and associate head coach Vonn Read noticed the Orange could capitalize off those nine fouls. He urged Hillsman to dump the ball inside more, drawing guards off the perimeter and open up the 3-point shots — exactly what Syracuse’s opponents had done to them in conference play. If the arc wasn’t open, Finklea-Guity and Djaldi-Tabdi could back their defenders into the paint.“We knew that if we just kept pounding the ball inside and trying to get them in deep positions that we would be able to be successful,” Finklea-Guity said.That, along with falters by Virginia Tech’s offense, kept the Orange in the game until their press began to dictate the tempo. Cayla King fired two 3-point airballs in the opening frame. Offensive rebounds didn’t end in second-chance points for the Hokies. Djaldi-Tabdi, who scored eight points in the second quarter, tied the game with four minutes left in half, but King immediately responded with a 3. The airball chants from her previous two shots stopped and the Carrier Dome sat down. The next VT possession, King sunk another, single-handedly extending the Hokies’ lead back to six.Even in a second-quarter which saw the Orange score 20 points, most offensive rotations weren’t clean. When they were though, shots started to fall and Syracuse slowly chipped away at the double-digit deficit it had nearly faced the entire game.Lewis drove from the right elbow with the final media timeout nearing but contact knocked her shot off. Hillsman stared at the referee for a foul call. Lewis did too. The Hokies continued in transition, cycling the ball until a 3-pointer bounced off. But Elizabeth Kitley grabbed the offensive rebound for the Hokies and was fouled by Lewis, sending the Orange into a media timeout.In that 18 second sequence, three of Syracuse’s most defining errors shone through once again: the forced layup, the open 3-pointer, the offensive rebound. Hillsman paced the court and wiped his forehead. He walked toward the folding chair that awaited him, grabbed his whiteboard and a marker, and sat down. A loss that would sink the Orange neared.“If you want to turn the season around, you have to start winning some games,” Hillsman said.And just as Syracuse’s season appeared to reach a breaking point, Lewis emerged. She started with an offensive rebound and assist to Emily Engstler. Then another offensive board and pass to Gabrielle Cooper, who ended the sequence with two free throws.With just over a minute left and the Orange down two, Cooper pumped her fist and stared toward the Syracuse bench. Cole had just grabbed Engstler’s missed free throw but stepped out of bounds.On the next Syracuse shot, Lewis provided the game-winning layup and perhaps saved the Orange’s season. Commentslast_img read more