People are strange, when you’re a stranger. Friday the 13th was a fitting date for the basketball season opener between the FDU Knights and the Syracuse Orange; only the second time in 17 seasons the Syracuse women began the season on campus.
Ten different players found the scoring column for Syracuse (1-0), led by 11 points from Wooden Award nominee Nicole Michael, and the Orange held FDU (0-1) to 16 percent shooting from the floor in the second half to post a 65-45 victory Friday night before 485 fans in the Carrier Dome.
Strange sights and sounds were plentiful Friday: mid-November temperatures in Onondaga County kissed 60, inside the two teams adopted a hockey-like substitution pattern (17 players found the floor in the first four minutes), Orange star forward Michael played just 23 minutes and SU head coach Quentin Hillsman stomped around in blue leather boots.
“When is the last time you saw that?” Hillsman said after the game, talking not about his shoes, but about his superior senior logging limited minutes.
The depth in the SU roster, something the Orange lacked in previous years, allowed Hillsman to shuttle players in and out (13 in total), in an effort to wear down FDU.
“Overall, we knew they were going thin, we knew they had nine players, so we’ll keep pushing,” said Hillsman.
Up just 38-32 at halftime against a team that won only nine games last season, the Orange made defensive adjustments at halftime that resulted in just 13 points for the visitors.
Michael increased the SU lead to 41-34 with a three-pointer early in the second half and FDU’s top player, Mariyah Laury (13 first-half points), picked up her third foul at 17:05.
The Orange women quickly found their offensive groove, reeling off a 14-4 run with offensive rebounds and heady play in transition. Sophomore guard Lynnae Lampkins finished a contested left-hand lay-up with 10:10 left to cap the run, putting Syracuse out-front, 55-38, with a comfortable margin they would not relinquish.
“I thought (Lampkins) really came out, she pushed the tempo,” Hillsman said. “She did a very good job on defense and I’m proud of her effort.”
The Knights, led by shooting guard Laury, showed little fear of the bigger Cuse squad in the first half. As the Orange alternated zone looks, Laury and running mates continued to find open spaces, sinking the long-range shots (six for 16 from 3-point land in the first stanza).
FDU took an early 10-6 lead at 16:39 as forward Kayla Killian grabbed an offensive rebound and converted the put-back.
Syracuse turned around and posted a 9-2 run of their own to assume the 15-12 advantage. Freshman swing Elashier Hall found nothing but the bottom of the net from the near corner, drilling a three-pointer at 12:45 for her first collegiate basket.
Laury started to heat up, drilling a mid-range jumper in traffic before sinking a corner triple to put the visitors up, 20-19, with 8:11 left in the half.
The spacious Dome had little effect on the star-struck FDU guard: “Having the honor to play where Carmelo Anthony played; it was just great,” Laury said after the game.
The Orange came out of their zone defense on the very next possession, creating both a turnover and a trend: six of the next seven baskets in the game would be made beyond the arc.
Michael took the honors, starting the barrage by making a steal in the backcourt, and after just one dribble, sank a three-pointer from the right wing (she would finish the night 3-for-6 from deep). Three minutes ticked off the clock before FDU forward Alannah Driscoll-Sbar hit a triple of her own off a sideline out-of-bounds play, capping the shooting spree to give FDU a 32-31 lead with 3:40 showing.
The Orange made a quick adjustment, taking Lampkins out of the zone set and assigning her to face-guard Laury, denying the FDU guard any chance to touch the ball.
Laury finished the night with 13 points on 5-of-13 shooting. FDU was led by senior guard Alyssa Mayrose, who scored a game-high 19 points.
SU, in turn, rattled off seven unanswered points, capped by junior Erica Morrow’s kiss of the glass in the transition. The jumper came with 45 seconds left in the half and the Orange trotted into the locker room with the 38-32 lead and a mindset to come out to stop the Knights in the second half.
The Orange made the halftime adjustments and kept the strange from getting stranger.
“They were getting loose on us in transition,” Hillsman said. “So we said, ‘We’re going to keep them in front of us.’”
“A lot of teams aren’t used to playing here, having a lot of space around them,” said Morrow, a team captain, talking about the Dome. “I love it, I wouldn’t want to play anywhere else in the country.”