Syracuse turns to depth, dives into ACC tournament without Diamond Henderson

As Syracuse’s Tuesday practice came to an end and its players dispersed for various interview responsibilities, head coach Quentin Hillsman sat in a chair on the baseline of a far practice court alongside guard Diamond Henderson.

Wearing a hoodie and sweatpants with a black brace over her left leg, Henderson sat still while her teammates spoke excitedly about the potential of avenging regular-season losses against Notre Dame and Duke, and about their readiness for the postseason. It didn’t look like Henderson or Hillsman said much, if anything at all.

Moments later, Hillsman announced Henderson had torn her left ACL against Clemson last Thursday and would not play during the postseason. No. 22 Syracuse (21-8, 11-5 Atlantic Coast) will now look for others to step up, whether it be its reserves or starters, when it starts ACC tournament play on Thursday at 11 a.m. in Greensboro, North Carolina against Wake Forest (12-19, 2-14).

“We always talk about being able to go deep into our bench,” Hillsman said. “I guess this is when our depth will be tested and we’ll see how deep we really are.”

Henderson, who transferred to SU from Tennessee Tech before this year, was SU’s most productive reserve guard this season. The senior averaged 21.5 minutes and 10.5 points per game, which ranks third on the team.

On Jan. 29 in a 78-58 loss to then-No.8 Louisville, Henderson led SU with 20 points — 10 more than any other Orange player. SU’s second-leading scorer that day, forward Taylor Ford, also came off the bench.

Though Ford hasn’t started a game this season, the forward averages eight more minutes than starter Isabella Slim. And in the Orange’s win over then-No. 13 North Carolina on Feb. 5, Ford sank a 3-pointer to give SU a 49-42 lead 7:22 to play, and then made another to extend SU’s lead to seven with 2:02 to go.

Outside of Henderson, the only other reserve guard to see meaningful minutes this season has been Maggie Morrison, who averages 10.2 minutes a game and has only eclipsed five points in a game twice during conference play. But on Jan. 11 against Virginia, Morrison knocked down four 3s in the closing minutes of the first half and played lockdown defense in the final minutes of regulation, helping SU secure a 70-58 victory.

“I’ve just got to come in and step up,” Morrison said. “Make plays, knock down shots. If I get the chance, I’ve just got to take it and be ready.”

Henderson’s scoring production will most likely be picked up by SU’s starters rather than the reserves, though. SU’s most-often used starting lineup of Butler, Slim, Alexis Peterson, Cornelia Fondren and Briana Day has scored 68 percent of the team’s points this season.

“I don’t think (Diamond not playing) puts any pressure on any of us,” guard Brianna Butler said. “ … We have a lot of people who can step up. Taylor has had big games for us. Bria Day stepped up when Briana (Day) wasn’t in. We just have other players who can step up into those roles.”

Peterson and Bria Day, both sophomores, could shoulder the burden. Peterson averaged 15.1 points and 4.3 assists a game this season, and Bria Day averaged a double-double, with 10 points and 10.9 rebounds.

On Tuesday, Peterson talked about how prepared SU is for potential ACC and NCAA tournament runs.

But they’re runs Henderson won’t be a part of.

“We always say that we’re going to play for each other,” Peterson said. “We look forward, I’m sure, to people coming off the bench or excited for the opportunity. We’ll all do what we have to do to get this win.”

Butler pours in 20 1st-half points, breaks all-time 3-point shooting mark in Syracuse win over BC

Brianna Butler’s shots kept falling — and falling, and falling.

A 3-point, nothing-but-net field-goal from the top of the key. An in-rhythm 3 from the right wing. A runner with her right hand as she drove left through the lane.

A 27.4-percent 3-point shooter coming into Thursday, Butler came out against Boston College and hit her first six 3-point attempts. The junior forward scored 20 points in the first half alone — she finished with 22 and five steals — and led the No. 25 Orange (19-8, 9-5 Atlantic Coast) to a 73-51 victory over the Eagles (12-14, 4-9) in front of 738 at the Carrier Dome.

“I know every time she hit a 3 I was jumping,” said SU forward Taylor Ford. “There was one 3 I was like, ‘Dang. Oh, snap. Good job, Bri.’”

After hitting seven 3s against Boston College last year — one short of the school’s single-game 3-pointers made record — Butler made six 3-pointers in the first half on Thursday. The fifth eclipsed Julie McBride’s (2001-04) school record of 229 3s made in a career.

“She shot the ball really, really well today,” Syracuse head coach Quentin Hillsman said. “To have the all-time record as a junior is tremendous. She’s probably going to shatter it before she graduates, because she’s going to make 100 of them next year too.”

From the start, it was destined to be Butler’s night.

The Orange begins every game with the player making the last basket of pregame warmups leading the team huddle. Thursday night, that player was Butler.

Moments after SU center Briana Day won the opening tip, Butler hit a wide-open 3 from the top of the key that hit nothing but net.

Three minutes later, she drained another from the same spot on the floor to extend SU’s early lead to 8-2. Butler retreated expressionless back to the defensive end.

“In the past when I shoot the first shot it wasn’t usually going in,” Butler said. “But being able to knock down the first one, seeing the ball go in the basket early is definitely reassuring.”

On the ensuing possession Butler scored on a drive to the lane to give Syracuse a 10-2 lead, then hit a 3 from right wing to put SU up 15-5 with 14:19 to go in the half.

Again, no reaction.

Butler didn’t miss a shot until there was 28 seconds left in the first half, a 3 that rimmed away.

“It did not catch us by surprise,” Boston College head coach Erik Johnson said of Butler’s first half. “She shoots a lot of 3s. They have the green light to shoot — she more than anyone. We’ve seen her be hotter than a pistol. We’ve seen her go 0-for-14. (But) she doesn’t stop shooting and she’s a great shooter.”

When an announcement was made to the Carrier Dome crowd before the start of the second half about Butler’s new school record, the small forward didn’t acknowledge the crowd, just scratched her right ear before inbounding the ball.

But per norm, Hillsman said after the game that Butler passed up about five or six 3’s.

With two minutes remaining in regulation, Syracuse point guard Alexis Peterson drove through the lane and was called for an offensive foul.

“She’s wide open! She’s wide open!” Hillsman yelled, pointing to Butler.

As she walked off the court, Butler playfully tugged at the ponytail of SU reserve center Michelle Van Dyke, then high-fived fans on either side of the tunnel on her way to the Orange locker room.

A season of struggles finally gave Butler a reason to smile.

“It’s pretty cool,” Butler said. “I’m definitely blessed and honored to have that school record. But I couldn’t have done it without my teammates and coaches.”

Pass it on: Point guard years, early coaching stops shape Hillsman’s style of coaching

At 5 years old, Quentin Jerome Hillsman profiled as a tenacious sideline-to-sideline defender and a smooth, yet electric, point guard in his recreational basketball league.

In his first game in a league of 5- to 7-year-olds, Hillsman intercepted a pass and ran down the right side of the court for a wide-open layup — a not-so-easy shot for the young lefty. The shot fell, and the first two points in Hillsman’s lifelong journey in basketball were recorded.

“It was probably the most uncontested shot I’ve ever taken,” Hillsman joked.

Now in his ninth season as the Syracuse women’s head coach, Hillsman has implemented lessons from his playing days to become the most successful coach, in terms of win percentage, in program history. Hillman’s teams have reached seven consecutive postseasons playing a style his 5-year-old self would have thrived in — an up-tempo offense and frequent press defense.

“Being a former player, it makes him a lot more credible because he can relate,” SU point guard Alexis Peterson said. “In my position, you can’t ask for something better than to have someone who can relate. He’s been at every level, so he brings that experience and knowledge.”

Hillsman first clung to basketball because of its quickness and because his friends played. The flashiness of Earvin “Magic” Johnson and the high socks of Michael Cooper attracted him to the Los Angeles Lakers, who he still points to as his favorite team.

On the court, Hillsman emulated Detroit Piston Isiah Thomas and the Utah Jazz’s John Stockton. More so Thomas than Stockton, as Hillsman admitted trash talking was a major part of his game — even in St. Mary’s (Maryland) alumni games, fellow former Seahawk Ivan Lanier said.

“He always used to say, ‘I don’t care if my opponent is 2 years old, I’m taking it to them,’” said Nicole Michael, who played for the Orange from 2006–10, in an email.

Hillsman’s first coaches in youth ball, Emmitt Clark and Doe Cunningham, taught him the game’s fundamentals, as well as the importance of conditioning. Aaron Holder at Forestville (Maryland) High School taught him how to be a teacher, a disciplinarian and how to follow a game plan.

Hillsman graduated Forestville and attended Johnson C. Smith Community College, a Division II school in Charlotte, North Carolina, before transferring to Division III St. Mary’s for his sophomore season.

“When I saw him play, I realized he may not be, because of his size, recruited heavily by Division I coaches,” said Jay Gardiner, who coached at St. Mary’s from 1984–91. “But he turned out to be a great small college player. He had great leadership, had tremendous quickness and had tremendous court sense.”

In Hillsman’s junior season, St. Mary’s and York College of Pennsylvania were tied in the Capital Athletic Conference tournament semifinal game with less than 10 seconds to go. He was double- or triple-teamed, backing away 7 or 8 feet and falling out of bounds, when he threw up a 3-pointer that miraculously fell through and gave the Seahawks a victory.

“(It) may be the greatest 3-point shot I’ve ever been around as a coach,” Gardiner said.

In the tournament championship against Marymount (Maryland), St. Mary’s trailed by 10 points with seven minutes to go in regulation, but, led by Hillsman and teammate Jason Slaughter, the Seahawks came back for a runaway victory.

“He was a little, quick guard,” Slaughter said. “… But he could score if he had to. There was no doubt about that.”

Hillsman finished his college career ranked third (330) in assists and eighth (130) in steals at St. Mary’s, and also set the school’s single-game and season assist record. More importantly, he also left with knowledge of how to run Gardiner’s motion offense and methods of how to space the floor — which he now does at SU with four-guard lineups and a quicker tempo.

After college, Hillsman played on U.S. traveling teams to Ireland and Iceland, where he learned more about spacing. But an injured back ended his career, and so began a career in coaching.

As an assistant for Gina Castelli at Siena (New York), Hillsman worked with the team’s guards on individual skill development and oversaw the team’s camps. But the years that Hillsman was at Siena, the team had numerous injuries, often leaving the team with eight or nine players for practice.

“He had a lot of good input in terms of strategy, of what worked and what didn’t,” Castelli said. “We joked with Q because, I felt like every time I came to him about doing something different, he said, ‘Yeah, we did that.’

“He had a background in everything.”

At Syracuse, Hillsman has occasionally run with the team in five-on-five drills and often challenges his players to shooting competitions.

“I won more times, although I’m sure he is going to disagree with that,” Michael said.

At a recent Syracuse practice, Hillsman stopped a drill, took the ball from Peterson and demonstrated how he wanted her to communicate a specific set.

“You’re a point guard. Let her know you’re there,” Hillsman told Peterson, referring to an SU teammate.

It’s an underlying idea that has gotten Hillsman to where he is today. As a player and point guard, Hillsman’s job was to support his teammates and make those around him look better.

Hillsman continues to have those values, just in a different position on the floor.

“When you make the transition from high school to college, playing at a high level, you take all that experience with you into coaching,” Hillsman said. “I’ve taken a little bit from every coach I played for.”

Peterson erupts for career-high 32 points to carry Syracuse past Wake Forest

Alexis Peterson dropped to the Carrier Dome floor — her back resting on the free-throw line and her legs extended in the air mere inches above the floor’s Atlantic Coast Conference logo.

Syracuse’s fiery point guard clenched her arms in two double-fist pumps, let out a beckoning “Ah!” and twice smacked the Carrier Dome hardwood.

In the midst of scoring 10 points in the game’s final 2:39, Peterson had just knocked down a jump shot while being fouled, an eventual three-point play that extended Syracuse’s lead to nine points with 59 seconds to go in regulation.

It was a historical night for Peterson, who led the No. 25 Orange (12-5, 2-2 ACC) to a 73-62 victory over Wake Forest (9-9, 0-4) in front of a crowd of 364. The sophomore finished with a career-high 32 points on 10-of-15 shooting and turned the ball over just once in 39 minutes.

“It was the best point guard performance in my nine years here, by far, and it ain’t even close,” SU head coach Quentin Hillsman said. “She’s established herself as a player that whenever we need something to happen, she’s going to make it happen.

“If she’s not at Syracuse University tonight, we lose. Period.”

She played all but 20 seconds in the first half and scored 17 points, two shy of her personal best for an entire game.

With 4:23 left in the first half, Peterson circled around a screen, and with Wake Forest guard Amber Campbell draped on her right hip, threw up an awkward layup. The ball rolled over the front of the rim and in. To that point, Peterson’s 14 points equaled the Demon Deacons’ total.

“She’s one of the best point guards, most dynamic point guards, I would say, in the league,” said WFU head coach Jen Hoover, who added that she’s known about Peterson since AAU ball. “She’s a big threat because she can do so many things with the ball.”

Not even Peterson’s second-half charley horse could derail her performance. After the guard made a free throw at the 12:08 mark of the second half, she came off the court with the cramp, but checked in 51 seconds later and played the rest of the game.

After a Briana Day steal with 8:51 left, Peterson found Diamond Henderson in transition and retreated to the perimeter. With the Wake Forest bench yelling “shooter!” Peterson took a pass back from Henderson and sank a mid-range jumper to give the Orange a 53-44 lead.

Peterson also stood out on defense, grabbing four rebounds and swiping two steals. Hillsman pointed to a steal Peterson had with 4:33 to go in regulation and SU clinging to a 59-51 lead as her best play of the game.

After a 6-0 WFU run, Peterson hit a 3 from the left wing to extend the lead back to five, holding her right arm in the air and relishing the moment.

“I didn’t look at it as it being my night,” Peterson said. “I was more concerned with us losing. Whether I had 32 or two, it was more so, ‘How are we going to finish this game and come out victorious?’”

PB Central High product Angelo Jean-Louis scores TD in Boca Raton Bowl

The following story ran in the Palm Beach Post:

BOCA RATON —

When wide receiver Angelo Jean-Louis first met Rod Harris — then the head coach at Palm Beach Central High School — he had a message for him: “Never fear, Angelo is here.”

Harris knew from the start that Jean-Louis was “a major college prospect.”

“I knew from the first time he walked on campus he was going to be special,” said Harris, now the defensive coordinator at Glades Central. “He was about 5-foot-11, had extraordinary athletic ability and was very confident.”

Now a redshirt freshman at Marshall, Jean-Louis returned home Tuesday night for the inaugural Boca Raton Bowl. Against Northern Illinois, Jean-Louis caught two passes for 26 yards, including an 11-yarder for a touchdown, in Marshall’s 52-23 victory.

With Marshall leading 31-20 with 2:06 left in the third quarter, the Wellington product caught his sixth touchdown pass of the season.

Lined up against Huskies cornerback Anthony Brooks, Jean-Louis raced to the outside and up the sideline. Jean-Louis caught the ball a few yards before the back of the end zone, planting his left foot and dragging his right while making the catch.

He then leaped into the air for a celebratory chest bump with tight end Ryan Yurachek.

Jean-Louis, who was not available for comment after Tuesday’s game, finished this season with 21 catches for 490 yards.

In high school, Harris said, every opposing defense had to account for Jean-Louis. In one game against Palm Beach Gardens in 2011, Jean-Louis had five receptions for 139 yards and a touchdown in a 38-32 upset victory.

Former Broncos quarterback Ryan McGovern recalled a third-and-35 against Royal Palm Beach.

“I thought I overthrew him by a mile,” McGovern said. “Sure enough, Angelo came out of nowhere and caught it. He was able to make plays out of nothing and made my job easier.”

Said Harris, “Angelo has had an amazing year this year. He’s matured so much as a player and as a person. I couldn’t be prouder.”

Powers explodes for 32 points, leads No. 18 Michigan State past Syracuse in 89-76 win

WINTER PARK, Fla. – Aerial Powers stood with her right arm frozen in the air and her right hand curled toward the basket – a picturesque follow-through on a fundamentally sound 3-point basket.

Powers’ triple with 4:45 left in regulation gave No. 18 Michigan State an eight-point lead, all-but securing a victory over No. 19 Syracuse.

The only thing Powers didn’t do at Warden Arena on Sunday was sell concessions. In the first half alone, the first-team All-Big Ten selection from a year ago scored 14 points, grabbed eight rebounds – three offensive – and picked up three steals.

“Aerial is a very good player in transition, is very good in the mid-range, and does a very good job at getting into the killer spots on the floor,” Syracuse head coach Quentin Hillsman said. “She did a good job at getting to the spots where she can score and she did a very good job rebounding.”

Powers finished with a career-high 32 points, 17 rebounds, four steals and three blocks, leading the Spartans (8-3) to an 89-76 victory over SU (8-3) in the final game of the Florida Sunshine Classic on the campus of Rollins College.

For the second time in three days, the Orange went down to the wire with a Top-25 team, and for the third time this season, lost against a Top-25 team in the final minutes.

“It’s encouraging because you know you’re just as good, but it’s also discouraging because you know you probably should have come out with the ‘W’,” Syracuse guard Diamond Henderson said. “For however many minutes we didn’t go hard for or a situation that happened in the game, that’s what’s discouraging about it.”

With Michigan State leading 31-27 with 2:27 to go in the first half, Powers flew through the lane and intercepted an inbounds pass, then threw a slick pass to a cutting Tori Jankoska underneath. Jankoska made the layup, but missed the free throw after being fouled by SU’s Cornelia Fondren.

Powers, backpedaling toward half court, let out a scream while raising her right hand for a high-five with Jankoska. Moments later, Powers blocked a Henderson jump shot and made one of her own on the other end, giving the Spartans a 39-35 lead heading into the half.

“We just didn’t do a good enough job of containing her,” Syracuse’s Brianna Butler said. “She’s a good player all-around and we knew that coming into the game. We just made her a better player today.”

With the score knotted at 43 six minutes into the second half, Powers drove coast-to-coast with Butler in front of her. Butler hacked Powers, who made the shot and the ensuing free throw.

With Syracuse trailing and Butler still mired in her season-long shooting woes, it was forward Taylor Ford who answered time and time again for the Orange down the stretch. The junior scored a season-high 14 points, with nine of them coming in the second half.

Ford made a layup with 9:03 left in regulation to cut a five-point deficit to three at 59-56. Twenty seconds later, she made a top-of-the-key jumper, once again, bringing the Orange to within three. Two minutes later, the forward hit another jump shot to bring the Orange to within two, at 65-63.

“We were down by a couple of points, so I was just trying to do what I could do so we could get back up,” Ford said.

But from there, Michigan State went on a 7-2 run, capped by a 3-pointer from Jankoska to extend Michigan State’s lead to 72-65.

Fittingly, Powers made four free throws in the final 37 seconds to put the game away, handing the Orange its second consecutive loss and third overall against a ranked opponent.

“To lose by a little bit in the last minutes of the game, it’s kind of hard on us,” Butler said. “The good thing is that we’re able to compete with these big-time schools. But we have high expectations to do better.”

Butler’s off night proves too much for Henderson, Peterson to overcome in SU’s 74-72 loss to No. 9 Baylor

WINTER PARK, Fla. — After making just two of her first 11 shots, Brianna Butler made her way to the Syracuse bench and head coach Quentin Hillsman followed her.

As Butler subbed out for the second time in the game’s first 11 minutes, Hillsman gave his small forward an earful, yelling inches from her face. When Butler finally sat, Hillsman crouched down and continued to shout at Butler as the game continued.

Within moments, Butler was in tears.

“That was personal. A private moment between me and her,” Hillsman said. “I didn’t get on her at all.”

Despite a bad shooting performance from its go-to player, No. 19 Syracuse (8-2) went down to the wire with No. 9 Baylor (9-1) on Friday inside Warden Arena in the opening game of the Florida Sunshine Classic in Winter Park, Florida. Syracuse held a marginal lead late in the second half until Bears guard Niya Johnson hit a jumper with 1:02 to go, the last points in a 74-72 Baylor victory.

After losing 67-63 to No. 1 South Carolina on Nov. 28, Friday’s game marked another close loss for Syracuse against a national powerhouse.

“I thought that for about 36 minutes, we were the better team,” Hillsman said. “For four minutes when it was time to win the game, Baylor came out and won.”

It was an all-around poor night for Butler, who shot 6-of-24 from the field — 2-of-15 in the first half and 4-of-16 from 3 overall — yet finished with 16 points. Syracuse’s second-leading scorer also missed two 3s in the final minute and a half of regulation.

“At any point in the game when I shoot the ball, I shoot with confidence and feel as if everything’s going in,” Butler said. “Whether it be in the beginning of the game or the end of the game, I shoot the ball the same way. They just didn’t fall today.”

Over an hour before the game, Hillsman pulled aside senior guard Diamond Henderson and told her she needed to have a strong performance. She responded, combining with point guard Alexis Peterson to keep the Orange in striking distance despite Butler’s struggles. Henderson finished with 27 points, and Peterson added 16 points and five assists.

The Orange held a 29-26 lead at halftime, but the lead changed hands six times before Henderson fed Peterson for a game-tying basket with 7:44 left. And with SU trailing 58-57 moments later, the senior made two free throws to put the Orange ahead.

“Whether (Butler) is making shots or missing shots, we’re all going to play our role,” Henderson said. “Tonight I saw some opportunities to attack, and that’s what I did. Some of them went in.”

Then Butler, in response to her poor first half, hit a 3 with 6:25 to go to give the Orange a 62-58 lead.

“In the second half I was able to slow down, catch myself, and be able to just shoot without thinking too much,” Butler said.

Peterson and Henderson continued to carry SU down the stretch. Henderson found forward Briana Day inside for a layup to put SU up, 68-64 and Peterson then hit two free throws to give SU a 70-66 lead.

But even as timely scoring gave Syracuse hope, Butler couldn’t find any rhythm. The junior’s missed 3s in the waning moments — the first with the score tied at 72, the second with the Orange trailing by two — prevented the Orange from recapturing a lead it held tenuously late in the second half.

And even while struggling, Hillsman designed a play for Butler on the game’s final possession. He called timeout with 17 seconds left on the clock and the Orange down, 74-72.

Butler didn’t have a shot, though, and instead passed to Peterson, who tried a layup from the left side that hung on the rim but rolled off, and the Orange’s effort to overcome Butler’s poor night fell with it.

“We got exactly what we wanted. We got the ball into (Butler’s) hands,” Hillsman said. “ … I just keep waiting, and I keep saying it, because it happened last year around this time. We kept having this conversation, and she ended up shooting like 65 percent for the rest of the season from beyond the arc.

“It’s coming. It’s coming.”

Freshman Minott looks to build on flashes of potential against Vermont

When Danielle Minott checked in to Syracuse’s game against Jacksonville on Nov. 22, the freshman guard had no points, no steals and one rebound in just six minutes played over two games.

Syracuse led 9-3 at the 16:40 mark of the first half, and in 2:33 of playing time, Minott hit a jumper and picked up both an offensive and defensive rebound.

The short spell was a microcosm of Minott’s ability and athleticism, and a glimpse at why some Syracuse players see Minott as a mini Brittney Sykes.

On Monday at 7 p.m., Minott and No. 22 Syracuse (4-1) return home for a game against Vermont (0-5). With Sykes still recovering from a torn right ACL and the Orange playing an inferior opponent, Minott will likely see her first extended minutes in the Carrier Dome.

“When (Danielle) starts to figure out what we’re trying to do on the floor, she’s going to be explosive for us,” Syracuse head coach Quentin Hillsman said, after Minott played just four minutes against Fordham on Nov. 16.

“Like I told you last year about (then-freshman guard) Alexis Peterson, trust me, Danielle Minott’s next. She’s a very good player, and she’s going to help us.”

While Minott sees limited action behind a guard rotation of Peterson, Cornelia Fondren, Diamond Henderson and Maggie Morrison, the Miami Country Day (Florida) School product has shown flashes and versatility in limited action.

Against Jacksonville, Minott played a season-high 15 minutes and scored five points, grabbed three rebounds and came up with two steals while playing a wing position in SU’s 2-3 zone.

As a sophomore in high school, Minott led Parkway (Florida) Academy to the Class-3A state championship game, but the Panthers lost by 15 to P.K. Yonge. Minott then transferred to Miami Country Day, where the Spartans reached the state title game.

As a senior, Minott’s annual appearance in a state title game looked doubtful. The Spartans had a series of injuries early in the year, and the team went through what head coach Ochiel Swaby called a “gauntlet” schedule with a rotation of only six players.

“But she carried us,” Swaby said. “When we walked out of the gym, everyone wanted to know who this kid was. Who’s D. Minott? Who is this kid? I had college coaches at major schools say, ‘How did we miss this kid?’”

Minott led the Spartans to a 26-3 record and the school’s first state championship, in any sport, in its 75-year history.

“I guess the third time was just meant to be,” Minott said. “I just had this mentality that I didn’t want to lose three times, ended my high school career right and start my college career on a good note.”

Swaby said that he was “amazed” with Minott’s raw strength and elevation on her jump shot. He also praised her leaping and rebounding ability and said she was as strong as most high school players he’d seen.

But with four experienced guards in front of her now, Minott will continue to adjust to only receiving sporadic playing time and make the most of her opportunities.

“She has to go through that adjustment period,” Swaby said. “But once she gets her confidence back up and she’s feeling good about herself again, her true talent and her skill set will come to the forefront.”

Syracuse relents 2nd-half lead, falls short of upsetting No. 1 South Carolina in Bahamas

Syracuse’s 2-3 zone packed inside the paint, sometimes without a player above the free-throw line. All game long, No. 22 SU dared No. 1 South Carolina to shoot from the perimeter.

Late in the second half, the Orange led by one, and the Gamecocks had shot just 8-of-25 from beyond the arc. But with just over three minutes to go in regulation, South Carolina’s Asia Dozier hit a 3 to give the Gamecocks their first lead of the second half.

After Dozier’s dagger, the Gamecocks (4-0) pulled away, edging the Orange with a last-minute, 67-63 victory in Friday’s championship game of the Junkanoo Jam in Freeport, Bahamas. The Orange (4-1), though, led by 10 with seven minutes to go in regulation and was minutes away from unseating the nation’s top team.

SU’s Brianna Butler scored 18 points and center Briana Day went for 13 points with 17 rebounds, but neither effort was enough in the end.

“South Carolina made a couple of plays down the stretch and won the game,” Syracuse head coach Quentin Hillsman said. “But we really competed at a high level.

“… We came here to win this, and we knew we had a great game plan… We’re a top-25 basketball team and had an opportunity to beat the No. 1 team in the country. You’ve got to get that done.”

Although the Gamecocks ran out to a 10-3 lead, both sides exchanged leads a couple of times. Syracuse pulled off a 25-3 run of its own and point guard Alexis Peterson hit a circus layup at the buzzer to give the Orange a 35-31 lead at the half. It was the first time since 2008 against Connecticut in which the Orange led a No. 1 team at halftime.

Syracuse’s Isabella Slim hit a 3-pointer to give the Orange a 40-36 lead four minutes into the second half, and everything seemed to go right for the Orange. Butler then hit a pair of 3s to keep the Orange ahead, 46-41 with 12:18 to go.

Despite the Gamecocks’ lineup of three players 6 feet, 4 inches and taller, the second half belonged to Day, who scored seven of her 13 points to extend SU’s lead to 51-46.

“She was the reason why we were in that game,” Hillsman said. “She was doing a great job inside.”

The Orange led by as many as 10 in the second half. But a combination of Tina Roy 3s and shots from Tiffany Mitchell and A’ja Wilson lead to South Carolina taking its first lead of the second half, 60-59, with Dozier’s 3-pointer with 3:35 left in the game. Dozier canned another 3, a layup by Roy and a pair of Mitchell free throws iced the win for South Carolina.

Last January, Syracuse upset No. 6 North Carolina on the road, 78-73 — a win Hillsman, at the time, called the biggest victory in program history. On Friday night in the Bahamas, Syracuse was minutes away from handing that distinction to a new game, but fell a bit short.

“All of our kids played at a high level, which I’m really proud of,” Hillsman said. “But give South Carolina credit, they’re the No. 1 team in the country for a reason.”

Outside Midfielder: Grant Chong remains close to Syracuse soccer after leaving team to focus on academics before this season’s unprecedented run

Grant Chong sat in the bleachers at SU Soccer Stadium and watched as Syracuse’s nine seniors, one by one, were honored on Senior Day. Chris Makowski, his roommate. Nick Perea and Trevor Alexander, his former pregame passing partners. Jordan Murrell, his golfing buddy.

From several rows behind the SU bench, wearing a sweatshirt and ski cap, Chong watched his friends and former teammates receive accolades for commitment and dedication to SU soccer.

A senior, Chong played for the Orange from 2011–13 and was a key reserve last season. But in June, the midfielder chose to step away from the team to focus on his chemical engineering degree. SU players still consider him part of the team, though, and Chong will follow the Orange’s postseason run from the stands and through streaming online feeds.

“I came to this school saying, ‘I’m going to be a student-athlete,’” Chong said two weeks ago, while sitting in the lobby of the Life Sciences Complex. “But I almost felt like I was just an athlete with soccer and the amount of time it took. I loved every second of (soccer). But it really wasn’t that hard of a decision.

“I’ve played soccer my whole life. I wasn’t getting tired of it, but I just needed to move on and start focusing on school a little bit more.”

Chong, though, tried desperately to prolong his playing career. With the help of SU Athletics academic coordinator Mark Trumbo, Chong thought of several ideas that would have allowed him to play this season, from summer classes to taking some required classes next semester. Chong even sent a two-page email to a professor asking to do an independent study.

But nothing could be done to avoid a once-a-week class he would have had to miss and a twice-a-week class that meets at the same time as SU’s practices.

In June, Chong visited his mother in Singapore, where she was doing business. His decision was made and a conversation with her confirmed it.

In mid-July, Chong visited Syracuse on his way back to his home in Brighton, Michigan. Though SU head coach Ian McIntyre wasn’t in the team’s offices when Chong came by, Chong told the head coach his decision when the two spoke on the phone that night.

“They were completely understanding of it,” Chong said. “They’d known I’d been struggling with school and the mix of an engineering major and soccer. So, they respected it. They honored it.”

Chong told his senior classmates and then the rest of the team.

They still consider “Chongy” part of the team — especially the senior class that Chong said, in a way, rebuilt the program. It’s a group that bonded over prank wars during freshman year on the third and fourth floors of Ernie Davis and grew during golf outings at Drumlins Country Club.

“Once we found out that Drumlins was free with your SU ID, we went out as much as we could,” said former SU goalkeeper Andrew Coughlin, now the starting goalkeeper at Canisius College. “It was for bragging rights until the next time we went. It was pretty competitive, but none of us were very good.”

Before the seasons changed this year, Chong and Murrell went to Drumlins three or four times a week after Chong’s classes and after Murrell finished training. Sometimes after playing nine holes, they would sneak over and play holes 16, 17 and 18.

The group also took trips to Toggenburg Ski Resort in Fabius, New York. Last year, Chong, Makowski and goalkeeper Matt Stith took a four-day trip to ski in Killington, Vermont.

“He’s been with us for three years,” SU defender Skylar Thomas said. “You can’t take that away from us.”

Before the Oct. 31 Senior Night ceremony, Murrell told Chong he wished Chong could walk out onto the field with the team’s seniors.

“He’s still here and he’s still around the team,” Murrell said. “He goes to every game. Even the cold and rainy ones, he’s there supporting. He’s always going to be, at least in my head, a part of the team.”

And for Chong, that won’t change.

“If they get an NCAA game nearby, I’ll drive,” Chong said. “I will easily drive. I will keep on supporting them.”