Two years ago, Syracuse got bounced out of the NCAA Tournament off its home court.
Fast forward to Sunday against the same opponent and a matchup 1,700 miles south, the Orange served up some payback.
Emily Engstler scored 18 points and made three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter and No. 8-seed Syracuse pulled away from No. 9 South Dakota State for a 72-55 first-round win that had a sweet taste of revenge.
“It was definitely ammunition for us,” Engstler said, “and it looks like we answered very well.”
Syracuse advanced to the second round to play the winner of No. 1 seed UConn and No. 16 High Point in San Antonio.
Syracuse led 50-48 to open the fourth quarter before Engstler struck from long range on consecutive baskets for the Orange and Syracuse slowly pulled away from there. Her third from long range took two bounces on the rim before falling in to put Syracuse ahead 66-52 with 3:19 to play.
The Orange (15-8) had five players score in double figures in a methodical offense that produced points from everywhere, including 12 3-pointers. Senior guard Tiana Mangakahia had 11 points and seven assists.
Paiton Burckhard had 17 points for South Dakota State (21-4).
Syracuse started quickly behind Mangakahia and freshman center Kamilla Cardoso only to see the Jackrabbits mount a steady comeback and take a 28-25 lead early in the second quarter.
The Orange closed the period with a 10-3 run that included 3-pointers from Digna Strautmane and Engstler for a 37-31 lead at halftime.
Syracuse stretched the lead to nine when Mangakahia made a 3-pointer from the right wing. The Jackrabbits immediately responded behind Burckhard, who scored 11 points in the quarter and cut it to 43-42 with a short jumper.
Defensive pressure by the Orange unsettled the Jackrabbits in the backcourt in the fourth. A floater by Mangakahia off a steal pushed the Syracuse lead to 61-52 with 5:46 to play and the Orange were in control.
“Our pressure was just a factor. We were able to speed the game up,” Syracuse coach Quinton Hillsman said. “I thought tonight we did a great job of knocking down 3s. When they doubled the post we made 12 3s in this game, and that was huge.”
COMEBACK FROM CANCER
Mangakahia sat out last season after being diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer, which led to chemotherapy and a double mastectomy to remove fast-growing tumors. The Australian returned to lead the NCAA with 7.5 assists per game coming into the tournament.
South Dakota State was missing the star of its 2019 upset. Myah Selland, the Summit League player of the year, has been out since a Feb. 19 injury.
“That’s definitely a thought in the back of all our minds, but we had a really good season with Myah and we continued to play well without Myah,” Burckhard said. “I’m not going to sit on it and dwell on it.”
The Jackrabbits don’t start a player taller than 6-foot-2 yet controlled the rebounding for much of the game and finished with a 48-36 advantage over much-bigger Syracuse. They couldn’t capitalize. The Jackrabbit grabbed 13 offensive rebounds but turned them into just six second-chance points.
“They definitely had a lot more size than we’re normally used to playing in the Summit League,” Burckhard said. “Just having to utilize our strength and just kind of having a different mentality when it comes to guarding 6-7 girls and guards that are 6-feet tall.”