By: Kylan Watson
The Syracuse University Women’s Basketball team entered postseason play as the three seed, in the Portland, Oregon division of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament. They earned the right to host their half of the bracket inside the Carrier Dome. The Orange have not had a home postseason game since 2015. They made it all the way to the Final Four that year. If they wanted to move on to the next round, they had to beat a very challenging opponent in the Fordham University Rams. They crushed the Rams 70-49.
The Orange got off to a sluggish start early in the game. Their shots were not falling, and they were forcing a lot of the action early.
The Rams on the other hand were able to hit their shots early. Senior Forward Kaitlyn Downey had a big game and was able to hit some key three-pointers for the Rams and helped them earn a one-point lead in the first quarter. She scored 15-points, made three three-pointers, and grabbed five rebounds.
Coach Quentin Hillsman said, “Fordham’s a really great basketball team. We knew this wouldn’t be easy we knew they would fight. They would test our principles and our zone. They did a really good job of spreading the ball around and screening the ball. I thought we were able to get our pressure up, and a lot of times it’s not about Fordham, it’s about us forcing turnovers and creating tempo.”
The Orange were able to rally and retake the lead after a 13-0 run early in the second quarter. They were able to force some early turnovers by the Rams and were able to get easy lay-ups and transition threes.
The player that benefitted the most from this style of play was junior guard Tiana Mangakahia. She scored 21-points, grabbed eight rebounds, and had 10-assists.
Mangakahia struggled during most of this game she made eight out of 20 baskets and she had four early turnovers. However, she was able to settle down and get her teammates more involved in the game, and when she started pushing the ball, the floodgates opened for the rest of her teammates.
She said, “We have not played a real game in two-weeks. So, I think getting back into the flow of things was a little bit difficult. But you know after that first quarter we shook the rust off, and we came out in that first quarter and we knew this is the tournament. So, it’s going to be up and down. We knew we just had to come out and give it our all. We started doing things that we do right.”
Senior guard Gabrielle Cooper also had a big game and was the beneficiary of some excellent passes from Mangakahia. Cooper scored 13-points, grabbed three rebounds, and made three three-pointers. Cooper was very efficient from beyond the mark and her experience was a calming presence for the Orange during a late run by the Rams.
The Orange now move on to face the South Dakota State Jackrabbits on Monday evening. The Orange will need to have more players than just Mangakahia and Cooper get involved in the action, if they want to move on and make a deep tournament run.