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Brittney Sykes turns in vintage performance launching Syracuse into 1st-ever Sweet 16

first_img Related Stories On her feet: After 2 ACL recoveries in 2 years, Brittney Sykes is primed to play for SUBrittney Sykes is still reshaping her game in 1st full season back from ACL tearsBrittney Sykes thrives atop Syracuse’s pressBrittney Sykes shows evolved skill set in Syracuse’s 91-32 win against Texas Rio Grande Valley Published on March 20, 2016 at 7:05 pm Contact Connor: cgrossma@syr.edu | @connorgrossman Brittney Sykes couldn’t wait for the buzzer to celebrate the highest moment of her career. With 10 seconds standing between Syracuse and its first-ever Sweet 16 berth, she swallowed Cornelia Fondren in a hug at midcourt.It was Sykes’ final moment on the Carrier Dome floor this season, and possibly of her career as next year looms with uncertainty. Syracuse jubilantly spilled out onto the court, celebrating both a historic program win and a season-best 24-point performance from their embattled veteran leader.Just don’t ask Sykes about a small stumble or trip on the court. Thirty-four games into the season, she’s annoyed that others haven’t moved on from her twice-torn right ACL like she has. She proved it Sunday with the biggest performance of her career in SU’s second-round NCAA tournament game, one she’s missed out on each of the last two years because of injuries.“I look at her and I just go, ‘Wow,’” assistant coach Tammi Reiss said. “For her to do that today on national TV, in the biggest game of our season, has to just make her heart feel so good.“The moment isn’t too big for her. Lights. Camera. Action. That’s Brittney Sykes.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textIt was Sykes’ first 20-point game in more than two years, and she pioneered Syracuse (27-7, 13-3 Atlantic Coast) to a 76-59 win against Albany (28-5, 15-1 America East) to send the program to its furthest-ever point in the NCAA tournament. She complemented her scoring eruption with five steals and a season-best 9-of-10 day at the free-throw line.MORE COVERAGE:Syracuse advances to first-ever Sweet 16 with win over AlbanyBria Day steps up as ‘MVP’ in Round of 32 winThree observations from Syracuse’s 76-59 victory over the Great Danes At times this year she was a shadow of her former self, the player who drove the paint with reckless abandon and weaved effortlessly through defenders. But against the Great Danes she was back in the limelight. Driving the paint. Splitting defenders. Carrying SU like she once could.“I told a couple of teammates,” Sykes said, “that it felt like the old me. I felt like the old Brittney when it came to attacking the basket and just being confident.”She knew the challenges that awaited her at the start of this season, fully acknowledging the “right of passage” endured by basketball players with torn ACLs. They become shooters. Sykes carved out extra time before the season to refine her jumper and long-range shots, knowing she’d have to compensate for not driving the paint as frequently.Her shooting success has teetered, with a field-goal percentage nearly eight points worse than either of her other two full seasons. But if nothing else, Sykes has been timely. And on Sunday she picked the start of the second half to be her moment, scoring SU’s first seven points of the third quarter.When Sykes pulled up and hit her first jumper in that stretch, she subtly nodded her head toward the basket. On Syracuse’s next possession she leaked outside the Great Danes’ perimeter and swished a 3. This time, a little more demonstratively, she tilted her head to the right as she stretched the Orange’s lead to 10.To cap off the hectic 90-second stretch, she corralled an errant Albany shot. And as if a 2013-14 highlight reel was playing out on the court, she split three defenders en route to rattling down a layup.“The first half I had my four points,” Sykes said. “Second half it was like, ‘You know what? It’s time to make my mark.’”Logan Reidsma | Senior Staff PhotographerThe 5-foot-9 fourth-year player erupted in the latter 20 minutes, scoring 20 of her 24 points in crunch time. In addition to her seven-point run in the third quarter, she went on a six-point tear to push the Orange’s lead to 15, its biggest of the game with three minutes remaining.As the final result grew more inevitable, Sykes’ hand steadied. She sunk all nine of her free-throw attempts in the fourth quarter, twice stole the ball from Albany in the final five minutes and both led to scoring possessions.“All in all, yeah, probably her most complete game,” head coach Quentin Hillsman said of where Sykes’ performance stacks up in her career. “(It was) her most timely game because we needed all of those points to be successful.”It’s a career that started with so much promise before crashing down near career-ending lows. Sykes knows she has freshmen teammates who haven’t seen a performance like this out of her, and she joked with them that this used to be a nightly occurrence. Without a drop of cockiness, she reaffirmed her point on the court: this is who she used to be.But with Sunday’s win came an injection of new life, or in Sykes’ case, old life. And it’s never been a more opportune moment.“’Just ride with me. I’m going to be there for you,’” Sykes recalled telling her teammates after the game. “This isn’t anything shocking for me. I know I can do this.’“’It’s just a matter of doing it.’” Comments Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

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