Syracuse’s defense tightens up in 2nd half to down Northwestern, 81-74

first_img Published on November 30, 2017 at 10:53 pm Contact Andrew: [email protected] | @A_E_Graham Facebook Twitter Google+ Syracuse had tied the game at 34 with 27 seconds until halftime. As Northwestern bled the clock, waiting for the final shot, SU’s defenders buzzed, calling out swaps to each other and identifying holes in the defense.As the clocked ticked under five seconds, NU’s Byrdy Galernik pulled up from deep and missed the shot. But under the far side of the hoop was Lindsey Pulliam, who snatched the rebound and calmly flipped the ball in for two points as the buzzer sounded. Pulliam turned and jogged the length of the court to a raucous group of teammates. The Orange slowly filed into the home locker room. It was a microcosm of Syracuse’s first half: Doing everything right on defense until a momentary lapse let it all unravel.“It’s extremely annoying to go a whole possession defending,” forward Miranda Drummond said, “and they end up getting a rebound.”In the second half though, Syracuse (7-0) cleaned up its defense to hold off Northwestern (5-3), 81-74 in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge on Thursday night in the Carrier Dome. After allowing eight second-chance points in the first half, the Orange allowed just one in the final 20 minutes. SU also held Wildcats point guard, Pulliam, to 10 second-half points after she dropped 19 in the first two frames.“We didn’t play well in the first half,” SU head coach Quentin Hillsman said, “but second half we really came out and applied a lot of pressure and sped the game up and did some really good things on the defensive end.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textSyracuse struck first in the second quarter, but then it became the Pulliam show.First, she floated a fast break layup while driving right. Then, 29 seconds later, she pulled up from the left wing and swished a 3. She followed the 3 with her signature midrange jumper from the baseline. Then, another fast break layup. In 1:41, she had scored nine points and put Northwestern ahead, 26-21, spurring a frustrated Hillsman to call a timeout.The Orange never did stop Pulliam, but managed to slow her onslaught in the second half. Part of what stymied her was foul trouble — she picked up her third and fourth fouls early in the fourth quarter — but SU gave her less space to operate, Pulliam said.SU knew going into the game that Pulliam could be lethal from midrange, point guard Tiana Mangakahia said, and still the Orange allowed Pulliam to exploit that part of her game. In the second half, whenever the ball would come to the freshman’s hands, a defender would quickly close out, leaving only a few feet of space and more often than not forcing a pass.“They played me a little bit tighter,” Pulliam said. “Kind of focused on me … keying in on me in the third quarter.”The other detriment to the Orange in the first half was second-chance points. A handful of times, Syracuse forced the Wildcats to pass and pass, never giving an opportunity to penetrate. The result was desperation shots from 20 feet out or further from Northwestern. But numerous times, a Syracuse player would miss a box out and NU would snatch an offensive rebound and either start the possession over or notch second-chance points.Whenever this happened, Hillsman would holler the name of the player who missed their assignment from the sideline with his arms outstretched, palms upward. After the half, Syracuse missed fewer assignments on the low block, Hillsman said, and the Wildcats’ second-chance point total reflected that.One of the biggest keys to Syracuse turning its defense around in the second half was pressing more, Hillsman said. What kept the Orange from using its pressure in the first half was its 35.7 field-goal percentage from the field. On Syracuse misses, Northwestern got over the halfcourt line quick enough to prevent SU from structuring its defense.“They didn’t really like the pressure,” Mangakahia said. “So coming into the (third) quarter we knew he had to press them and try to make them turn the ball over. ”In the second half, the Orange’s shooting jumped to 41.6 percent, and the press came higher up the court, coming more frequent and aggressive. SU doubled NU’s turnover total from the first half to the second — seven to 14 — and nabbed seven of its 10 steals in the second half.Not only did Syracuse steal the ball often, but almost every time a Northwestern shot went up, Syracuse’s bigs, along with Drummond, would crash the boards and put themselves between their mark and the basket. Syracuse allowed three offensive boards in the second half.“They’re amazing,” Hillsman said. “They just played hard and they just really compete. It was a tough, grimy game. We’re going to win those games because of the kind of players we have.”After Mangakahia put the game away from the free-throw line with six seconds left, Northwestern hustled down the court to try and hit a 3. It wouldn’t change the outcome of the game, but nonetheless, freshman Digna Strautmane found the shooter in transition, closed out and blocked the shot.It was Syracuse’s final stop in a half where it needed them badly. Commentslast_img

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