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GREENSBORO, N.C. — For the third time this season, Syracuse took care of business against Boston College. The first two wins came in 13- and 17-point blowouts, but on Thursday afternoon, it didn’t come as easy against the Atlantic Coast Conference’s worst regular season team.
The No. 5-seeded Syracuse had just beaten the No. 13-seeded Eagles a week prior in the Carrier Dome, burning them for 48 points in the paint as point guard Tiana Mangakahia tied her season-high with 19 points. But without Mangakahia in Greensboro due to a lower body injury, and with four other non-starters sidelined due to a violation of team policy, the Orange had to find alternative scoring methods. Those came in the form of Digna Strautmane, All-ACC honorable mention Kiara Lewis and ACC Co-Sixth Player of the Year Emily Engstler, among others.
Here are three takeaways from Syracuse’s (13-7, 10-7 Atlantic Coast) 67-61 win over Boston College (8-12, 3-12):
Kiara Lewis fills in at point guard
Without Mangakahia, Lewis filled the point guard role that she occupied last season. In December against Boston College — the only other game that Mangakahia has missed this season — Lewis led the way for Syracuse with a season-high eight assists.
Thursday afternoon, Lewis reassumed that role. She took control of the pace of the game, often dribbling at the top of the arc until the shot clock hit single digits. Lewis directed traffic, signaling to Engstler and Strautmane what play to run or where to set the screen for her. She followed the same formula — strong ball movement and connecting passes inside, then out — that allowed the Orange to beat BC in the regular season. She led all scorers with 21 points.
On a handful of occasions, however, she tried to do too much and to finish in heavy traffic. But for the vast majority of the game, she was in the driver’s seat for the Orange. She connected with Strautmane when she was open, gifting the senior good looks when they were available.
The Orange were in control for the better part of Thursday, largely due to Lewis’ dictation of the game’s speed. She chose the right moments to slow things down or play quickly, with some dictation from head coach Quentin Hillsman on the sideline. In the last two minutes of the third quarter, Lewis drove right and picked her head up for a kick-out pass to Strautmane. The senior cut past her defender for another easy layup.
In the fourth quarter, she scooped up a loose ball and dribbled behind her back before spinning for a layup to give Syracuse a six-point lead. She repeated a similar sequence for an and-one on the following possession.
Fouls create extra barrier for Syracuse’s thin roster
Syracuse also bumped Engstler into the starting lineup, her first start this season, due Mangakahia’s injury.
The Orange were without four bench players due to a violation of team rules. Hillsman was forced into a thinner rotation than usual — one that featured only seven players.
Then in the opening quarter, Kamilla Cardoso picked up two fouls and trotted off the court, replaced by Maeva Djaldi-Tabdi, Finklea-Guity or, at times, both. Freshman shooting guard Priscilla Williams drove into the paint for a layup and lowered her shoulder against Cameron Swart, who crashed into the hardwood floor. The officials signaled charge, Williams’ bucket didn’t count, and she walked back toward Syacuse’s bucket.
Moments later, Williams’ did the same thing again. This time, she lowered her shoulder at midcourt, sending a Boston College defender flying. The officials signaled another charge, Hillsman subbed out Williams, and she didn’t play significant minutes for the remainder of the half.
Syracuse found solutions in the second half and led by 10 midway through the third quarter. But the nine first-half personal fouls didn’t make the rest of the game easier for the Orange.
Syracuse’s size creates mixed results
With the addition of Engstler, the average height of Syracuse’s starting lineup was 6-foot-1. But in the opening minutes, Syracuse tried to find Cardoso in the paint on four separate occasions. None of the lobbed passes were able to connect with the freshman center’s outreached hands.
On the opening play of the second half, Cardoso received a pass from Lewis in the post, turning and converting an easy layup. But that was Cardoso’s only characteristic play of the afternoon. The reigning ACC Freshman of the Year couldn’t get into rhythm, struggling to corral passes in the paint or turn and shoot. She finished with as many fouls (four) as points (four), in addition to just two rebounds.
But, Engstler and Strautmane dominated the boards. Syracuse won the rebounding battle 43-36, and Engstler finished with a season-high 15 rebounds.
Finklea-Guity finished with a season-high 12 points, frequently receiving the ball in the post, backing down her defender and shooting. In the final two minutes, she got the ball along the baseline, backed into her defender and scored through contact.