Brittney Sykes was energized from the get-go.
Less than a minute into the game, she stole the ball and raced downcourt. She swiveled her body and found a wide-open Cornelia Fondren in the right corner.
Fondren drained the 3-pointer and got Syracuse on the board.
“My personal style is that I like to gamble and go for steals – easy buckets,” Sykes said. “Usually after a steal the energy picks up.”
It certainly did.
Syracuse burst out to a 10-point lead in the first nine minutes, as Sykes sparked the Orange right away.
The freshman’s afternoon was just getting started, though, as she played her most complete game this season and bullied Loyola early and often. Sykes filled up the stat sheet Saturday in Syracuse’s (9-1) 83-48 victory over Loyola (Md.) (4-6) in the Carrier Dome in front of 417 fans. She finished with 15 points, five steals, five rebounds and three assists, igniting SU to the blowout victory.
“As long as she’s aggressive and she can get some things in transition going to the rim I think everything else opens up,” Syracuse head coach Quentin Hillsman said.
And it did.
Syracuse was in a slump midway through the first half. After building an early lead, the Orange let Loyola claw back into the game. Consecutive 3s by Nicole Krusen and Alyssa Sutherland cut Syracuse’s lead to 16-14 with 7:38 remaining in the half.
Less than two minutes later, Sykes stole an errant pass from Sutherland and raced down to the other end. She bulldozed her way to the basket and laid the ball up and in, drawing a foul in the process.
She swished the free throw, pushing SU up five.
Then Sykes got a hand in the passing lane yet again. She came away with the ball and flew downcourt, as Loyola defenders frantically tried to stop her. She missed the layup, but Kayla Alexander cleaned up what Sykes had started.
After a jumper by Loyola’s Diana Logan, Sykes spotted up in the corner, waiting patiently for a pass. She stood in the same spot where Fondren drained a 3 to start the game.
This time, Sykes took Fondren’s pass. She squared her body toward the basket and connected from deep, putting Syracuse up 24-16 with 4:38 to go in the first half.
“She’s a very athletic player that can really slash to the basket,” Hillsman said. “Her shooting keeps people honest. That’s one thing that we talked about.”
In the second half, Sykes didn’t skip a beat. She forced another steal and converted on a putback off a missed hook by Alexander, as the Orange’s lead started to balloon with the score 36-20.
Sykes was the sparkplug for Syracuse, as the Orange took it to Loyola in the second half and ended up shooting almost 56 percent in the half and dropping 51 points.
Hillsman said it was Sykes’ best game so far this season. She struggled over the past three games, scoring only nine total points on 3-of-14 shooting.
Saturday that all changed in a hurry. Sykes sped Loyola up and flustered the slower Greyhounds.
She forced five steals and ignited multiple fast breaks.
Sykes said it was tough not to get down on herself during the inconsistent stretch coming into the game, but she said her teammates were supportive and told her to keep her head up.
“My confidence level is so high right now all thanks to my teammates, honestly,” Sykes said. “I’ve been down on myself from scoring and how to score, but they’ve been keeping me positive.”
Hillsman said Sykes was efficient in all aspects of the game Saturday. Despite her recent struggles, Hillsman knows he can expect many dominant games from Sykes down the road.
“It’s tough having such a dominant player because you want the finished product now, but the finished product might not be in two or three years,” Hillsman said. “She had a very, very good game tonight.”
Carmen Tyson-Thomas said Sykes is stepping into her role as a scorer and defender for Syracuse. She cheered from the bench and alongside Sykes on the court as the freshman forced turnovers, snatched rebounds and drilled 3-pointers.
“I’m proud of her,” Tyson-Thomas said. “I was in the same position as a freshman to come in and have to score. It’s a big role to take on, and I’m glad she’s stepping into it.”
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