Syracuse, N.Y. — A lot of people had engaged Quentin Hillsman in brief conversations about Notre Dame since his tenure at coaching Syracuse women’s basketball started in 2006-07.
Hillsman and the Orange had lost to the powerhouse Fighting Irish a whole lot during that span. Hillsman, in fact, was unfamiliar with any other outcome, going 0-16 against Notre Dame before Sunday.
And he always knew it.
“One thousand percent, that (he thinks about) I’ve never beaten Notre Dame. I think about it every time I play them,” he said. “And people keep reminding me, too, so don’t worry.”
Hillsman and SU have a much different memory to warm them now, thanks to Kiara Lewis and a gritty effort by the Orange.
Lewis sent the game into overtime with a clutch three and contributed 28 points overall as SU raced back to stun Notre Dame 74-63 in the Carrier Dome. Lewis’ shot was an accelerating kick for Syracuse, which outscored Notre Dame 14-3 in the extra five minutes.
Emily Engstler was also dominant in producing a career-high 22 points and 15 rebounds for the Orange, which had dropped 21 straight games to Notre Dame dating back to the 2002 Big East Tournament.
“We played them already a few times (in the current players’ careers). So I feel like we already had the feeling like, well, this is the time we finally have to win,” said Orange forward Digna Strautmane. “We can’t keep losing to them.”
Destinee Walker led the Fighting Irish with 25 points, but the rebuilding team’s lack of depth showed. Walker, Sam Brunelle (12 points) and Mikayla Vaughn (16) combined for all but 10 of Notre Dame’s points.
The win was SU’s second-straight overtime triumph, coming off a decision over No. 8 Florida State on Thursday and boosted Syracuse’s mark to 8-6 overall, 2-1 in the ACC.
Notre Dame (6-8, 1-2) won the national title two seasons ago and was the runner-up last year, although with five starters gone from last season the Fighting Irish is in overhaul mode. That’s not the outlook SU carried, though, especially in an effort to avoid a letdown after the Florida State upset.
“Well, they start four McDonald’s all-Americans. So at the end of the day, they have a lot of talent,” Hillsman said.
“They’re a good team. They have some good players, so we didn’t really look at their record because we knew what to expect,” Lewis said. “We hadn’t beat them since 2002, so it’s a huge win for us.”
Fighting Irish coach Muffet McGraw declined an interview request for her thoughts on the game.
Notre Dame held its largest lead at 55-45 with 7:39 left in the fourth before the Orange started to claw back. Lewis canned a pair of foul shots to bring SU within 58-56 with 2:55 remaining, and Notre Dame’s Anaya Peoples answered with two free throws of her own to make it 60-56.
Lewis cut the SU deficit to three with a foul shot with 34 seconds remaining. Peoples missed two foul shots with 30 seconds left, and Hillsman called timeout.
The initial plan was to get Engstler a look, with Strautmane as the backup plan. But the Fighting Irish closed down on both those screen attempts.
“I think we ran every kind of ball screen we had in that 16 seconds,” Hillsman said. “We just kept turning our ball screen action over. They just did a really good job of just staying in our action.”
Lewis floated out to the left side, found open space and calmly canned the evener.
“Time was winding down, so I’m like, ‘Well I’ve got to do something now,” Lewis said. “She (the defender) gave me a little space and I shot and prayed it went in and it did. My teammates probably look to me to make plays like that. It’s exciting to have that confidence from Coach Q and also my teammates. It just gives me a different level of confidence. That’s why I took the shot. I feel confident with it.”
Peoples tried to win it for the Irish in the final seconds but her baseline drive was swatted away by Strautmane.
Syracuse took its energetic play into the extra five minutes, scoring the first 11 points of overtime. Engstler opened with a lay-in in the paint, and Strautmane worked her way inside for another bucket.
“I think (Lewis’) shot was the difference. It was a confidence booster. It was the reason we went into overtime thinking that we had a chance to win,” Engstler said of the late momentum. “Digna’s block was big, too. Big plays like that really allow teams to continue making big plays. That’s why the stretch went from two to four to six to nine to 11 so fast. That’s any good team. You have a good player step up, and it allows the other players to follow. So I think that’s exactly what we did.”
Gabrielle Cooper slipped in a short field goal for a 66-60 SU cushion, and Lewis followed with a foul shot and then a jumper. Teisha Hyman capped a fast break with a layup to all but salt the game away at 71-60 with 1:53 left.
SU visits Miami on Jan. 12.
“I’m just really happy for our team, just happy for the win. Going into a bye week with two Ws, what else could you ask for? That’s what you want,” Hillsman said.