Tiana Mangakahia stars in Syracuse’s 1st round win over Fordham with near triple-double

first_imgTiana Mangakahia drove the lane and peeked at the clock. The seconds waned and, just as she had repeatedly through the first quarter, Mangakahia squared her shoulders and used her dribble to create separation.As the mid-range jumper slipped through the net, the buzzer sounded and Mangakahia held two fingers out before swiping them down. Through the bedlam, a fan lifted a cutout of Mangakahia’s face above their head and waved. On national television hosting the big dance for the second time in program history, it was fitting that most eyes were on SU’s star.The buzzer-beater was a highlight of Mangakahia’s first NCAA tournament win — The 21-point, 11-assist, eight-rebound, five-steal performance sealed No. 3-seed Syracuse’s (25-8, 11-5 Atlantic Coast) 70-49 win over No. 14-seed Fordham (25-9, 13-3 Atlantic 10) in the first round. Surrounded by the Carrier Dome crowd for what could be her penultimate home game, Mangakahia dazzled. She exploited free space, found open shooters and foiled the Rams’ strategy to limit her greatness.“She realizes what time it is,” Emily Engstler said. “… I think she realizes that she has a chance to get drafted in the WNBA and people need to start looking at her like that. … It’s time for people to understand what she is.”If Saturday was a culmination of how far Syracuse’s program has come, then it was also Mangakahia’s.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textMangakahia transferred to SU two years ago from Hutchinson Community College and quickly went from a junior college hopeful to a potential top-five selection in the upcoming WNBA draft. In the process, she answered the program’s biggest question: Who would replace Alexis Peterson and Brittney Sykes, “America’s best backcourt?”Growing up in Brisbane, Australia, Mangakahia said she didn’t watch college basketball. That didn’t change when she enrolled at Hutchinson. When she knew she wanted to transfer to Division I, she looked for a school that fit her “personality” and fixated on Syracuse.She quickly carried the Orange to a 22-8 record, entering player-of-the year conversations. But then Mangakahia shot 3-for-14 in her NCAA tournament debut as SU lost by nearly 30 to Oklahoma State. Sitting during the postgame panel on Saturday, Managakhia laughed and smiled to herself.“It was a big difference,” she said.Max Freund | Staff PhotographerThe 5-foot-6 guard spent the first quarter adjusting to Fordham’s strategy. Mangakahia drove past Rams’ guards with ease, swinging passes around the perimeter to open shooters. Fordham guards rotated under screens and allowed Mangakahia to shoot herself. SU’s shooters had sporadic success in the opening frame, though.At times, shots clanked off rim or missed entirely. Mangakahia eventually committed one of her four turnovers, chucking a pass to FU’s Bre Cavanaugh on an in-bound and watching Fordham’s leading-scorer execute a two-on-one fast break. Other instances when Mangakahia breached the paint, Fordham collapsed and earned several steals. The No. 14-seeded Rams even led Syracuse, 15-14, after one quarter.“We hadn’t played a real game in two weeks so getting back into the flow of things was a little difficult,” Mangakahia said. “At the beginning there I know I wasn’t making many shots.”Mangakahia persisted, and eventually the ball fell through twine. SU’s full-court press forced turnovers, allowing Mangakahia to sprint in transition and facilitate an extended 15-0 Syracuse run. She dished a no-look pass to Miranda Drummond in the lane that elicited a roar from the bench.When Fordham adjusted, deploying its own press in the second quarter, Mangakahia broke it off the dribble. On one play, after missing a mid-range jumper, Mangakahia corralled the miss while SU head coach Quentin Hillsman extended his hands as if to tell her to slow down. Mangakahia smiled, rolled off a screen and notched a 3.“She’s so crafty and sees the open person so well,” Fordham head coach Stephanie Gaitley said. “You can prepare for that as much as you want on tape, but until you actually see it live, it isn’t the same.”In the second half, Hillsman continued to send forwards to the top of the arc so Mangakahia could operate. She hoisted tries from the lane, an element of her game she said she needs to improve, and finished at the rim when space was available. After a Katie McLoughlin 3 cut the lead down to single-digits, Mangakahia scooped a layup for an and-1, triggering a Engstler flex from the sidelines.When Gabrielle Cooper started a fast break off a steal and Mangakahia tapped a pass back to Cooper for the score, Gaitley called it the “turning point” of the game. But Mangakahia wasn’t finished. She recorded steals in the “red zone” — near the mid-court where turnovers result in easy layups — charged the crowd and put the game out of reach.By the six-minute mark, Syracuse’s offense constituted of Mangakahia burning clock in the corner before Hillsman called a screen that frequently resulted in another Mangakahia bucket.With 1:28 left, the crowd noticed as Mangakahia walked off the court. They had noticed her all game, through the points, assists, rebounds and steals. They noticed it for the past two years, when Mangakahia stumbled onto campus and turned into the face of the program’s recent success.As Mangakahia was greeted with her curtain call, she sat down on the end of the bench, the final score not finalized but decided, the crowd remained on its feet and cheered, as if they were hoping to see her one last time.“I feel like I did good tonight,” Mangakahia said. “I just hope the next game I can do better.” Facebook Twitter Google+ Commentscenter_img Published on March 23, 2019 at 6:38 pm Contact Nick: [email protected] | @nick_a_alvarezlast_img