Interior defense sinks Syracuse against Miami in 2nd-straight conference loss


first_imgEmily Engstler leaned back in her chair and looked to the Carrier Dome ceiling. Four points, five rebounds and three resounding blocks into her night, she was done and settled on the bench. Engstler bent over and held her hand over her face. She was seemingly the only forward on SU that could compete on the interior, but she wasn’t given another chance.In the postgame press conference, SU head coach Quentin Hillsman conceded that he would have liked to. When Engstler involves herself in plays, she’s a good player. But Syracuse was starved for activity. “I wanted her to run the floor,” Hillsman said. “I need Emily to run the floor.”Engstler’s face remained red out of the second half tunnel after the first 20 minutes where she wheezed up and down the court. She didn’t give what Hillsman was looking for. But neither did anyone else.No. 13 Syracuse (15-4, 4-2 Atlantic Coast) dropped its second straight conference game to Miami (17-4, 5-1), 84-71, by leaving the paint wide open and allowing the Hurricanes — who rank 24th in the nation in field goal percentage (46.1 percent) — to get wide open looks under the hoop. The miscues came in many forms, but the Orange had little to no answer to a Miami team that excelled in a high-low game with its post players lined up between the free throw line and the low block.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“When you’re in foul trouble like that, it’s tough to be aggressive,” Hillsman said. “We got to move our feet and get in front of the post.”For the Orange this season, it’s always been about the offense. Many times, high scoring outings temper even the deepest of worries opponents cause. Gabrielle Cooper said Tuesday the Orange look to get more steals: because more steals leads to more shots. Never has there been something to challenge that stance. But Wednesday, the offensive mindset went askew. Syracuse took 26 more shots than the Hurricanes and 17 more 3s — a component of Syracuse’s offensive game that drives its fast-paced, high scoring style. The shots were there, the attempts were made but it was open holes and blown inside coverages that sunk the Orange. Published on January 23, 2019 at 8:59 pm Contact Michael: [email protected] | @MikeJMcCleary Miami’s bigs dominated Syracuse. The Hurricanes scored 30 points in the paint, and Miami’s top players inside — Beatrice Mompremier and Emese Hof — scored 12 and 21 points, respectively. It’s an unfamiliar sight for the Orange. Despite its affinity for the 3-ball, the Orange have settled into a solid center-forward tandem. When Maeva Djaldi-Tabdi struggles, Amaya Finklea-Guity can provide production on either side of the ball and vice versa. For the first time this season, the Orange consistently had no answer for an opposing group of forwards.On multiple plays, either Hof or Mompremier caught the ball on the low block, turned and encountered a Syracuse defender. But Syracuse defenders were beat easily with a quick few dribbles to the left and right. Miami’s bigs were “experienced,” Djaldi-Tabdi said, so finding their way into the paint wasn’t difficult either. It didn’t help that they had among the quickest first steps that Djaldi-Tabdi has faced this season, she said.During one stretch in the second half, Hof caught the ball on back-to-back possessions near the free throw line and drove to her left both times. First, Djaldi-Tabdi picked Hof up near the rim, and the next time, Digna Strautmane found her. But at the last second, both SU players floundered. After converting on the extra shot at the line each time, Hof tallied six points in those two possessions alone.“I’m going to play other players like that,” Djaldi-Tabdi said. “That’s another thing I need to work on, obviously.”The Orange experimented with different lineups to try and find a solution to their paint struggles. Already without the highly active Miranda Drummond, who was kicked in the calf during a team drill in a “freak thing,” Hillsman said, SU inserted Raven Fox and Marie-Paule Foppossi for the first time in several games. In the first half, Engstler got an extended run as well.Engstler was the lone bright spot of Syracuse’s bigs. Immediately after checking in, the freshman recorded two blocks on the interior. Her outstretched arms forced fadeaways from Miami forwards and provided a barrier at the rim the Orange hadn’t had all game. On offense, her range stretched beyond the paint, and a mid-range shot gave Syracuse its first rhythm in a while.  On a SU defensive stance, Engstler pulled down the rebound and was fouled. She kept her head tilted to the floor and pounded the ball with her right hand.Syracuse assistant coach Tammi Reiss stood up from her chair, looked toward Engstler and pumped her fist.“Way to go, Em,” she yelled. Engstler nodded in return.A few plays later, Engstler fired short on a 3-pointer and grimaced as she turned around and followed Tiana Mangakahia in transition defense. The Miami player forced in a shot through contact, and Engstler gingerly grabbed the ball out of the rim and wheezed. Her activity slowed when Syracuse set up its offense around her, but on the defensive end where Syracuse was torched in the first half, she hustled down  and swatted a ball away again. But the slowed overall play caught Hillsman’s attention and in the second half, Syracuse reverted back to the old: Djaldi-Tabdi offered no resistance down low. Syracuse didn’t offer energy on the interior. Engstler, who gave life to SU’s interior defense in the first half, played limited time in the second frame. After Djaldi-Tabdi floated in the layup on one side, the first of a few plays that allowed her to find an offensive rhythm, Hillsman sprinted up the sideline. He pointed to Djaldi-Tabdi and yelled that she needed to get back on defense. A “defense!” chant from a rejuvenated Carrier Dome crowd came to a halt with a Djaldi-Tabdi foul. Commentscenter_img After the game, Hillsman grinned as he addressed the past two games. Seemingly unflappable, he urged there was no need to worry. SU’s going to the tournament. This is just a setback — albeit a different kind of setback than it would experience 11 years ago, when he said a 7-12 start called for a parade on Erie Boulevard. But as Engstler leaned back at the end of the game, Syracuse settled into a fate that arose over its past two contests: hampered by injuries and in a shooting slump it’s never found itself in before, its biggest weaknesses were exposed.“I think (Miami) just play well,” Kadiatou Sissoko said, “and that’s it.” Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

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