ORONO, Maine — Six-foot-4 Syracuse University senior center Kayla Alexander was a preseason All-Big East selection and she showed why Tuesday night.
Alexander scored 19 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to lead the Orange to a 68-44 victory over the University of Maine at Alfond Arena.
The Orange, who haven’t lost a game in November in three-plus seasons, improved to 2-0 while Maine fell to 0-3.
Alexander had 11 of her points and six of her rebounds in the second half and she also finished with three blocked shots.
“She’s a [future] WNBA player,” said Maine coach Richard Barron.
Syracuse took control of the game in the second half, scoring 17 unanswered points while holding Maine scoreless for 8:41.
That built the lead to 64-40 before Maine’s Anna Heise hit a reverse layup with 2:38 left.
The Orange went from a full-court zone press to a man-to-man in the second half to limit Maine’s perimeter game and it worked to perfection as Maine shot just 25 percent.
“Coach [Quentin Hillsman] told us to pick up the defense in the second half,” said junior guard Rachel Coffey, who had a game-high six assists with all of them coming in the second half. “We couldn’t let them drive and we had to get out on their shooters. We really focused on getting stops.”
“And our offense came from our defense,” added senior guard Elashier Hall, who had 11 of her 12 points in the final half. “We got into space and got into a rhythm and we knocked down some good shots.
“Maine was real scrappy,” Hall said. “They’re a real good team. Their shooters were tremendous so we had to switch up our defense to get on them.”
Alexander altered Maine’s shots with her presence and kept a lot of possessions alive by tipping the ball in the paint.
“My teammates looked for me inside and I finished [better] in the second half,” said Alexander.
“She’s a pretty good player but I should have done a much better job on her defensively,” said Heise.
Syracuse outrebounded Maine 26-11 in the second half and shot 44.1 percent from the floor.
Hall contributed four assists and seven rebounds to go with her 12 points and Brittney Sykes had nine points, nine rebounds and four assists. Carmen Tyson-Thomas had eight points and Coffey had a game-high five steals to go with her six assists.
Ashleigh Roberts’ 10 points and five rebounds led Maine. Brittany Wells and Heise had eight points each and Mikaela Gustafsson and Courtney Anderson had seven each.
Liz Wood had a team-high six rebounds as Maine was outrebounded 44-33.
“That’s an NCAA Tournament team right there,” said Barron. “They’re very long and extraordinarily athletic. We needed to hit our perimeter shots and we didn’t. We missed open shots.”
He added that they had a mental letdown in the second half and that affected their shooting.
“They weren’t 24 points better than us,” Roberts said. “If you can’t get inside, you have to find another way to score and we didn’t knock down our shots.”
The Orange built a 31-20 lead late in the first half behind a 17-6 run but the Black Bears displayed their resiliency by closing out the half with a 6-0 run to pull within 32-28.
Both teams were plagued by turnovers in the first half, as Maine committed 19 turnovers resulting from Syracuse’s relentless zone press, which forced the Bears to hurry their passes.
But the Orange turned the ball over three times during Maine’s spurt. They turned the ball over 14 times in the half.
Sophie Weckstrom fed an inbounds pass to Roberts along the base line to start the six-point run; Wells hit a pull-up jumper from the right side following a three-seconds call on the Orange and Wells nailed a 12-footer from the base line after Corinne Wellington blocked an Alexander shot and it went out of bounds off Alexander.
Gustafsson had five points and Roberts had a basket and two assists as Maine jumped out to a 12-7 lead.
Syracuse used a 9-2 flurry to take a 16-14 lead and, after a Heise basket, Rachel Coffey nailed a 3-pointer and converted her own steal to trigger a 7-0 run.
Alexander led all scorers with eight first-half points and she also grabbed six rebounds. Butler had six points and Coffey had five points and five steals.
Wells’ six points paced Maine, with Gustafsson and Anderson contributing five each. Wood grabbed six rebounds.
Maine outrebounded the nation’s second-best rebounding team from last season 22-18 over the first 20 minutes.
Barron said there were a lot of positives.
He thought Wells was a “real bright spot” with her energy level and shot selection; he liked the way his team aggressively attacked the Syracuse press and their “gang rebounding” in the first half.
Hillsman said Maine did a “great job scheming and game planning” in the first half which forced him to make adjustments at halftime.