Syracuse women’s basketball hopeful despite late loss in Play4Kay

SU women's basketball hopeful despite late loss in Play4Kay

The Orange drop final home game of season to No. 2 NC State but look forward to ACC Tournament.
Published: February 28, 2021
Feb 28, 2021; Syracuse, New York, USA; Syracuse Orange guard Kiara Lewis (23) shoots the ball against the defense of NC State Wolfpack guard Raina Perez (2) during the first half at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
Syracuse Orange guard Kiara Lewis (23) shoots the ball against the defense of NC State Wolfpack guard Raina Perez (2) during the first half at the Carrier Dome.

In the annual Play4Kay game, the final home game of the season for the Orange, Syracuse women’s basketball fell to No. 2 NC State 68-61. In her last game in the Dome, Kiara Lewis led both teams with a season-high 29 points, but her late heroics weren’t enough to finish the comeback.

Play4Kay and Senior Day made the pregame an emotional and meaningful celebration for both teams. The Orange wore all pink uniforms to raise awareness for all forms of women’s cancer in memory of former NC State head coach Kay Yow.

For Senior Day, Lewis, Tiana Mangakahia and Digna Strautmane all came to half court for a picture to commemorate their final game in the Dome, but they already celebrated their Senior Day a year ago.

Honored this year were Maeva Djaldi-Tabdi and Amaya Finklea-Guity, both of whom had prerecorded video messages from their families that they watched from half court. Both players, overcome with emotion from the videos, shared a moment on the court with head coach Quentin Hillsman for a picture.

Syracuse women’s coach Quentin Hillsman and Syracuse Orange forward Maeva Djaldi-Tabdi (3) hug as her highlight video is played on senior day. The Syracuse women’s basketball team take on N.C. State at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y. Feb 28, 2021
Syracuse women’s coach Quentin Hillsman and Syracuse Orange forward Maeva Djaldi-Tabdi (3) hug as her highlight video is played on senior day.

ACC Freshman of the Year Kamilla Cardoso won the final tipoff of the regular season as the Orange jumped out to an early lead over the Wolfpack. Play started with two minutes of scoreless action as both teams clamped down defensively, but Mangakahia opened the scoring with a three.

Lewis used a screen by Djaldi-Tabdi to fire up a three of her own, and Djaldi-Tabdi added a triple off of a feed from Mangakahia to put Cuse up 11-6 early in the first.

Play went back and forth for most of the quarter, but a late run by the Wolfpack, led by Camille Hobby’s six points, gave NC State an 18-15 lead after the first. Emily Engstler and Cardoso dominated on the glass in the first with four boards apiece, but NC State outrebounded the Orange 13-10 in total.

Early in the game, NC State had no answer for Lewis as she helped the Orange regain the lead in the second quarter. She jumped out to a quick 11 points on a pair of midrange jumpers, layups, and a three.

Djaldi-Tabdi helped SU regain the lead twice in the second with impressive footwork in the paint. Her series of spins and shot fakes got her two easy baskets, and a block on the other end of the floor energized the bench as the NC State shot flew out of bounds.

By halftime, there were 12 lead changes, including a jumper in the paint with three seconds remaining by Lewis. She led all scorers with 15 points in the first half and was the only player on either team to play all 20 minutes.

NC State led the first two quarters in nearly every statistical category with two notable exceptions. SU blocked seven of the Wolfpack’s shots, led by three from Djaldi-Tabdi, to NC State’s one. The Wolfpack also shot just 14.3% from three in the first to Cuse’s 25%.

The Orange’s three-point shooting, while not impressive early, let them down throughout the remainder of the game. The team shot just 16.7% from three, which Hillsman addressed in the postgame press conference as a key to the defeat.

“(We) have to make some shots. That’s what it comes down to,” Hillsman said. “They did a really good job of taking our inside shots away, they plugged the paint. We have a good basketball team, and they played hard. But obviously when you go four for 24 from three, that’s not going to cut it against the number two team in the nation. We just didn’t get it done.”

Feb 28, 2021; Syracuse, New York, USA; Syracuse Orange guard Tiana Mangakahia (4) dribbles up the court against the NC State Wolfpack during the first half at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
Syracuse Orange guard Tiana Mangakahia (4) dribbles up the court against the NC State Wolfpack during the first half at the Carrier Dome.

Lead changes, a theme of the second quarter, continued throughout the beginning of the third. NC State opened the scoring, but Mangakahia broke a cold shooting streak with her third make of the game.

Lewis cut right in front of the SU bench for an and-one layup through heavy contact and was met with a strong cheer from the sideline. She made her free throw, SU’s first attempt of the game, to tie the score 36-36.

The game could have been lost for Syracuse in the third quarter. The Orange were outscored 21-8 in the frame and shot just 2-of-15, including 0-of-7 from three. NC State had their best quarter and shot 8-of-14. The Wolfpack committed just four fouls to SU’s 12.

Through three quarters, only three of the Syracuse starters recorded a point. Four players on the roster had more fouls than points.

The fourth quarter began more promisingly for the Orange as Cardoso and Priscilla Williams both converted and-ones off Mangakahia’s fourth and fifth assists of the game to cut the lead to 53-47.

With 6:22 remaining, Hillsman called a timeout to gather the team, and the team responded. Djaldi-Tabdi scored at the rim, and on the inbound play, SU trapped NC State in the back court, forced a timeout, and the Syracuse bench erupted with a huge cheer.

Lewis brought the Orange within two with a layup, and Cuse once again disrupted the inbound with a Cardoso steal. The ball was kicked back out to Lewis, and she hit a wing three to give SU an improbable 54-53 lead.

Engstler’s layup and Lewis’s jumper widened the margin to 58-55, but Elissa Cunane and the Wolfpack weren’t done fighting. Cunane converted on her second and-one attempt of the second half to put NC State back up 60-58 with less than two minutes remaining.

With less than 30 seconds remaining, down 62-59, the Orange were forced to foul to regain possession, but NC State widened their lead after Raina Perez hit both tries from the line. Lewis stormed down to the other end of the court for her 29th points of the game, but it was too late for the Orange as Perez went back to the line and hit both free throws a second and third time to close the game 68-61.

The Orange led in blocks 11-1 but were outrebounded 41-37. Engstler led both teams with four rejections. Mangakahia finished her final game in the Dome with 10 points, five assists and three steals. Lewis finished with a season-high 29 points. After the game, Hillsman spoke about the importance of his two starting guards to the team moving forward.

“I told them guards win championships,” Hillsman said. “I told them they needed to step up today. (Lewis) was phenomenal. These are two kids that got us here, and they’ll take us all the way – as far as we can go.”

With the loss, SU finished the regular season 12-7 (9-7 ACC) and will look to bounce back in the ACC tournament starting March 3, in Greensboro, North Carolina. Hillsman remained confident that the team would exceed expectations moving forward.

“If we make shots, we can win the ACC tournament,” Hillsman said. “We’re as good as anyone in this conference, and we know that. There’s (sic) still two trophies left, and we’re coming for both of them.”

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is a magazine, news and online graduate student and lead sports producer for The NewsHouse.