The Wolverines earn a hard-fought home win
ANN ARBOR, MI — Michigan responded to Syracuse Head Coach Quentin Hillsman expecting his team to return to the national rankings as soon as next week — a bold prediction after going 1-2 in the Greater Victoria Invitational and dropping out of the AP poll after being ranked No. 18 last week.
“We’ll probably be [ranked again], like, on Monday,” Hillsman told syracuse.com on Wednesday. “So we go beat Michigan, go beat UMBC, we’ll probably be like No. 22. We’ll be right back in it.”
The Orange nearly accomplished the first task on Hillsman’s list, battling through a tightly-contested first half on the road and eventually leading the 24th-ranked Wolverines, 66-57, with 6:09 remaining. Michigan, however, stormed back with a 14-3 run to take a 71-69 lead with 30 seconds left. Two free throws by junior forward Digna Strautmane sent the game to overtime, where Michigan flat out dominated — outscoring the visiting Orange 13-5 and clinching an 84-76 home win.
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“We played extremely hard, and there was no quit and there was fight,” said Michigan Head Coach Kim Barnes Arico. “We still were able to keep our momentum and keep our composure… I think [the Wolverines] felt a belief that we were gonna win the game.”
Michigan forced five Syracuse turnovers in overtime — after forcing seven in the fourth quarter — to secure a statement victory over a quality opponent. The Wolverines baited Syracuse into 24 giveaways overall while committing just 12 themselves, a positive for a team that has struggled with securing the basketball at times this season. Michigan was primarily able to suffocate the Orange with full-court pressure, trapping smaller guards near the sidelines — a tactic they tend to employ when trailing.
“That’s another thing of everybody working together, knowing what spots they’re supposed to be in,” said sophomore forward Naz Hillmon. “Even when [the pressure] did break down a couple times, we didn’t put our head down, we got right back into it and still try to get those stops.
“It was the grit, we really dug in today.”
The Wolverines were also perfect from the free throw line in the extra period, going 7-for-7 from the charity stripe. They rank 12th in the Big Ten in free throw percentage at 64% on the season, but made the opportunities count when it mattered most. Sophomore guard Amy Dilk made two to begin the period, senior guard Akienreh Johnson made three and senior forward Kayla Robbins made two to extend the lead to ten and ensure the victory.
While Strautmane led Syracuse with 16 points on the evening, the Orange’s other scorers struggled to consistently find the range from the floor — sophomore Emily Engstler and redshirt junior Kiara Lewis combined for 23 points but on just 9-for-29 shooting. Although the team shot 5-for-8 from three-point range in the first eight minutes of the contest, they finished just 13-for-35.
“We just tried to get some spacing,” Hillsman said after the game. “[Michigan’s] a very physical basketball team inside, so we wanted to spread the floor and get some spacing.”
For the Wolverines, Robbins poured in a career-high 23 points on an efficient 8-for-13 from the field to pair with six rebounds. Sophomore forward Naz Hillmon contributed 16 points and 7 rebounds while Johnson added 13 points.
Michigan’s only setback to this point in the year came to Notre Dame, but they were still searching for their first “signature” win to justify their national ranking. The Wolverines had previously dominated non-power five opponents such as Western Michigan, Bradley, Kent State and Morgan State on their home court, but Syracuse — which still received votes in this week’s poll despite falling out of the top 25 — presented a much steeper challenge.
“The way that our kids battled back and fought when we were down and never quit and kept their composure and just played basketball, way different than [the Notre Dame loss] two weeks ago,” said Michigan Coach Kim Barnes Arico postgame. “I think that we really had a lot more confidence… and we beat a really tough Syracuse team tonight.”
For Syracuse, this was their third straight loss following a 4-1 start. Their schedule hasn’t been particularly kind in the early months of the season, having already played No. 1 Oregon and No. 3 Stanford. The Orange also face No. 19 Michigan State in the Florida Sunshine Classic and travel to Louisville to play the second-ranked Cardinals, all before the calendar turns to 2020.
“We played tough, you know, we played hard, but we’re out here to win games,” said Hillsman after the game. “We don’t want to just be close, we’ve been close a lot of games… at some point, we’re gonna win these games.”
Big Ten / ACC Challenge Notable Results
The Big Ten claimed its first ever victory in the women’s Big Ten / ACC Challenge, winning nine of the 14 contests. The conference’s victory was officially confirmed after Ohio State’s upset of No. 2 Louisville. This year’s challenge featured three matchups between two ranked teams, one on Wednesday and two on Thursday. Below are the notable results from each day:
The Big Ten set the stage for a Challenge victory by sweeping Wednesday’s slate, going 5-0 against the ACC.
No. 14 Indiana came away with an impressive 58-45 road win over No. 21 Miami. The Hoosiers improved to 7-1 on the year due in large part to junior Jaelynn Penn’s 17 points and redshirt junior Ali Patberg’s 12 points, five rebounds and six assists.
Unranked Minnesota handed Notre Dame its second home defeat to a Big Ten opponent this year, claiming a 75-67 victory in South Bend. The Big Ten’s leading rebounder, senior Taiye Bello, secured a double-double in the win by going for 16 points and 16 rebounds.
No. 19 Michigan State fell to No. 8 Florida State in Tallahassee, 78-68. The Spartans were leading by three after the first three quarters but were plagued by a 16-3 Seminole run in the final frame. Redshirt sophomore forward Kiah Gillespie was a major catalyst in the victory, contributing 24 points and 12 rebounds for FSU. Sophomore Nia Clouden — the Big Ten’s fourth-leading scorer at 16.3 points per contest — scored 22 points for the Spartans in defeat.
In a top-15 matchup in Raleigh, No. 13 NC State defeated No. 9 Maryland, as the Terrapins lost their first road game of the season to drop to 7-2. For the Wolfpack, junior guard Kai Crutchfield dropped 19 points while sophomore Taylor Mikesell scored 13 for Maryland.
In perhaps the most unanticipated result of the Challenge, Ohio State upset No. 2 Louisville in a program-defining game in Columbus, 67-60. The Buckeyes improved to 5-3 while simultaneously handing the Cardinals their first loss of the year. Though Louisville junior guard Dana Evans led all scorers with 18 points, Ohio State had four players reach double-figures led by sophomore forward Dorka Juhasz’s 15 points and seven rebounds.
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