Women’s Basketball takes down Ohio in season opener

Women's Basketball takes down Ohio at home

No. 21 Orange out paces the unranked Bobcats to win 66-54.
Published: November 6, 2019
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Taleah Washington drives to the basket during the Nov. 5, 2019 game at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, NY.

Identity Crisis

Syracuse faced a lot of questions coming into this season. Will the team survive without Tiana Mangakahia? Can Kiara Lewis step up as a leader? Was their tough loss in the playoffs a death knell for the program? In the first quarter, though, the question on everyone’s mind was, “wait, who’s winning?”

Emily Engstler scored the first points of the game in only 12 seconds, but the Orange’s fortune wouldn’t last for long. With a series of turnovers, wild passes, and missed shots, Syracuse allowed Ohio to score 14 unanswered points over the course of four and a half minutes.

A lot was made of Syracuse’s size advantage leading into this game, and they leaned into that angle hard to start things off. Ohio didn’t have a single-player over six feet tall, so the Orange tried to score layups down low and overpower the Bobcats on defense, forcing them to shoot. The only issue was that Ohio had a clear pair of star players that could shoot very well.

Relying on the big game allowed Ohio’s Amani Burke and Cierra Hooks to dominate in the first quarter. They led their team in maintaining their lead, which lasted for all but a few seconds of the first half. At its widest, they had a 14-point margin over Syracuse. The Orange narrowed that deficit to 10 by the end of the first quarter, but things were looking bleak.

Their insistence on playing up the size advantage went against what Coach Hillsman thought this team’s identity was. In the preseason, he described this group of women as the fastest roster he’s ever had, and yet, they tried to overpower the Bobcats, who had a clear game plan. Hooks and Burke were the centerpieces of their offense, with support from Erica Johnson. Meanwhile, the Orange had no clear standouts.

With sloppy plays and missed opportunities abound, Amaya Finklea-Guity scored the first of several buzzer-beaters to make it 20-10 as they entered the second quarter.

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Syracuse head coach Quentin Hillsman gives directions during the Nov. 5, 2019 game vs Ohio University at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, NY.

‘Cuse Climbs out of a Hole

The Orange’s second-quarter made clear why they’re ranked at 21. In particular, they showcased their impressive depth. It’s a point that Hillsman made a few weeks ago, stressing that they have more than one good player at every position, and it’s what allowed them to start making a comeback.

Ohio’s Cierra Hooks and Amani Burke continued to have decent performances, but several Orange women stepped up to help the team crawl back from their ten-point deficit. The second quarter saw veterans Amaya Finklea-Guity, Gabrielle Cooper, and Brooke Alexander all contributing in important moments. Finklea-Guity was a pillar of strength on defense, with a bevy of rebounds in high traffic. Cooper and Alexander, however, showed the real potential of the team, nailing several high-pressure shots to close the gap. Alexander finished the half with a 100% shooting percentage on field goals and threes.

Surprisingly, it was a freshman that gave the Orange their second lead after so long. Taleah Washington scored a few baskets, but it was a last-second shot from three at the buzzer to end the half that finally put Syracuse in the lead. Washington would continue to have an impressive debut and demonstrate how she could become a vital part of the Orange offense.

Overcoming a major first-quarter setback, Syracuse managed to outscore the Bobcats 20-10 in the second quarter to take a 31-30 lead entering the second half.


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Starting to separate

The third quarter saw some back and forth between both teams, but Syracuse finally began to find their groove. They established their speed and shooting ability, and perhaps most importantly, Kiana Lewis began to fully come alive.

The lead changed twice, then Ohio tied it up, but with Lewis distributing more effectively, and the team giving up fewer turnovers and missing fewer opportunities, Gabrielle Cooper sank a three to give a final lead. At the last second, Dagna Strautmane hit a three to make it 51-46 entering the final quarter.

Firing on all cylinders

Lewis truly came into her own in the fourth quarter. The team was finally clicking, and they gave a true glimpse at what this team can do. Lewis, Strautmane, Cooper, and Finklea-Guity all scored in the final quarter and showcased their depth and ability to score in a number of ways.

The game finally became out of hand for the Bobcats as the Orange pulled away, holding Ohio to just eight points in the quarter. Ohio tried to put up some decent numbers, but the Orange had fully established their game.

With all the concerns regarding Mangakahia’s absence, Kiana Lewis demonstrated why she was the next player up. She finished the evening two rebounds and two assists away from a triple-double in her first outing of the season. Were it not for the first quarter’s struggles, she very well could have reached that milestone.


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Taleah Washington goes for a fast break during the Nov. 5, 2019 game at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, NY.

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Syracuse’s Emily Engstler dribbles the ball during the Nov. 5, 2019 game at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, NY.

Looking ahead

As the Orange walk away from the game pleased about a win, they’ll have to heavily consider their game plan after that first quarter. They’ve shown that they excel when they can use their speed and shooting ability in open space, and with promising young talents like Taleah Washington and Kiana Lewis, they have a lot of upside.

However, No. 1 Oregon will arrive in the Carrier Dome on the 24th, and they won’t fall as easily as Ohio did tonight. Until then, they’ll need to recapture their second half magic next Tuesday, Nov. 12, when they take on Maryland Eastern Shore at 8 p.m.