In BC loss, Gabrielle Cooper leads new guard rotation after Hyman injury

first_imgGabrielle Cooper trailed Boston College’s Georgia Pineau when the pair entered the paint, but by the time they reached the left block, Cooper had recovered. As Pineau rose for a layup with halftime nearing, the Syracuse senior’s hand reached in and knocked the ball away.That block capped a 26-second sequence in the second quarter in which Cooper both tied the game at 43 for the Orange off a 3-pointer and offered them their first chance at a lead against the Eagles. She raced in transition for a coast-to-coast layup that bounced off, but Kiara Lewis drew a foul on the rebound. One free throw later, Syracuse had that advantage.“Gabby was aggressive and she’s been playing this way for the last couple weeks,” head coach Quentin Hillsman said. For most of this season, though, that hasn’t been the case. A shooting slump that started in nonconference play carried over into Atlantic Coast Conference games and limited Cooper’s impact. But in the last four games, Cooper’s topped double-digit points three times, the latest three days after SU lost top backup guard Teisha Hyman to a right knee injury.The Orange had to adjust their bench rotation on Sunday, leading to increased minutes for Brooke Alexander, Elemy Colomé and Taleah Washington as well as Cooper’s four 3-pointers and 18 points, one short of her season-high. In an 88-81 loss to Boston College (18-11, 11-7 ACC), Cooper’s performance and recent offensive resurgence have helped mitigate Hyman’s lost production heading into this week’s ACC tournament for Syracuse (15-14, 9-9).AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“We’ll be fine,” Lewis said, “now somebody else has to step up in that role.”Against the Eagles, that was Cooper. Midway through the opening quarter, when Syracuse and Boston College’s scoring pace ballooned, Cooper received the ball on the wing with an open 3-pointer. Instead, she drove for the layup. The Orange’s early 11-0 hole forced them to abandon their interior approach and rely on a 3-point one, but Cooper helped slow the pace back down.  Early in the season, Cooper took deep shots from the corners and wings to mostly poor results. One game with a single-digit output became two, two became three, and three skyrocketed into 16. “Some of our better shooters go through these droughts for four or five games,” Hillsman said on Feb. 5. Cooper’s extended much longer.Hyman emerged during that time as the Orange’s spark off the bench and even outscored Cooper at times. But against the Eagles, Cooper’s primary replacement wore a Syracuse sweatshirt and sweatpants on the bench, and gingerly rose to hobble toward the huddle during timeouts. When Hyman drove against NC State last Thursday, her right knee buckled. Syracuse’s backup guard depth immediately thinned, and Cooper’s role expanded.Will Fudge | Staff PhotographerSunday wasn’t the first time Syracuse played a game without Hyman, but the stretch is more significant. The Orange cruised past nonconference opponents in the three games she missed at the beginning of the season with a medial meniscus tear. But now, the Orange need a run in the ACC tournament to secure an NCAA tournament berth.“At the end of the day, we have guards that can step up and play and we gotta just bounce back and figure out a new rotation,” Hillsman said.Part of that formula Sunday involved Alexander, Colomé and Washington. The former hit two 3-pointers in the first quarter. Colomé became the spark for SU’s press. And when Lewis missed a jumper in the second half, Hillsman shouted “Noo” down his bench and Washington hopped up. She responded with an and-one. Relation to SU Current StudentEmployee of SUAlumniParent of Current/Former StudentLocal CNY ResidentOther An even greater amount of the new rotation, though, relied simply on Cooper’s increased output. Cooper went 4-for-9 from behind the arc, tied for her most second-most efficient shooting performance of the season. “They weren’t really coming all the way out on me,” Cooper said. “They were late with their close-outs, stuff like that. I got the ball up quickly, sometimes I was shooting as they were running out so it was kind of too late.”Cooper put Syracuse up three with four minutes left in the third quarter with a triple. Exactly 10 game minutes later, she trimmed Syracuse’s re-emerging deficit to that same number. When Boston College seemed poised to pull away from Syracuse long before the final buzzer, it was Cooper that helped keep the Orange in it. But after Lewis’s desperation three bounced off the rim in the final seconds, Cooper untucked her jersey and thrust it down in frustration. She pointed out postgame that this was the only senior day game she’s lost in four years at Syracuse. Cooper slowly walked toward the second spot in her handshake line for the last time in the Carrier Dome and raised her right hand. Then, she circled back through a line of fans high-fiving and disappeared into the tunnel.Over the next four days, as Syracuse prepares for a rematch against Virginia in Greensboro, Hillsman will continue to experiment with guard rotations to replace the opening Hyman left in the lineup. But over the last two weeks and on Sunday, despite the loss, Cooper may have provided a solution. 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