O’Neill looking to gain momentum

first_imgMichael O’Neill rates Sunday’s victory in Hungary as his best result in charge of Northern Ireland but insists it will only matter if they follow up by beating the Faroe Islands next month. Press Association O’Neill has previously overseen a home win against Fabio Capello’s Russia and a 1-1 draw with Portugal in Porto, but the 2-1 success in Budapest immediately overtook both as his favourite result since taking over from Nigel Worthington. That is down to timing more than anything, with close-range finishes from Niall McGinn and Kyle Lafferty giving Northern Ireland the best possible start to Euro 2016 qualifying. “But we can’t get ahead of ourselves. These are the kind of games, when we’re underdogs, that we go out and pick up points, but it’s the next game against the Faroe Islands – when we should beat them – those are the games where we’ve struggled.” Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis was also celebrating, having led his side to the first away victory of his tenure. The Southampton midfielder has long been a shining light in otherwise unimpressive performances, but this time the 29-year-old was able to reflect on a positive display. “We’re not going to get carried away but we caused them problems and I think we deserved the win,” he said. “Everybody gave their all and that’s what it’s going to take if we’re going to do anything out of this group. “Of course we know we’re not going to come away from home and dominate possession against quality sides but we’re going to try and build on this and get a bit of consistency. “Hungary are a good side and are ranked above us, but I thought we were really disciplined in our play and had to be patient at times. “Whenever we got a chance to play we put some nice patterns together. “But we also had that kind of ruthlessness in the final third which you need in games like this.” But despite the good feeling created by a first away win in over four years, O’Neill is already looking to the next test – a visit from Group F’s relative minnows. “This results feels bigger than Russia or Portugal because it means we’ve started the campaign on the front foot with three points away from home,” he said. “I felt we missed the opportunity to get some momentum going early in the last campaign but we haven’t missed it this time and that means we need to push on from here. “The truth is these three points are only as valuable as what we make of them. “We have a home game against the Faroes now which sets us up to be in a good position after a couple of games, but we have to make sure we do that.” Lafferty, who did more than anyone to drag his side over the line, echoed those sentiments. The 26-year-old Norwich striker made the piercing run and cross that teed up McGinn for the equaliser 10 minutes from time and then showed admirable endeavour to hook the winner over the line in a scramble. But looking ahead to the next test, he said: “When we dig deep, we’ll pick up points and we’ve done that this time. last_img read more

Brooke Alexander searches for role she was recruited for

first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on December 21, 2019 at 1:30 pm Contact Andrew: arcrane@syr.edu | @CraneAndrew In the Carmelo K. Anthony Basketball Center, Brooke Alexander started to laugh as her father’s shot sunk through the basket. For once, she was rebounding for Mike. She grabbed the bouncing ball, but turned to launch a 3-pointer of her own while her mother and grandparents snapped photos from the right corner. It was Nov. 23, one day before Syracuse’s game against then-No. 1 Oregon and less than an hour before the Orange’s walk-through.Mike swung the ball back to his daughter, and she made a second. He remained underneath the basket and continued to rebound as Alexander’s streak reached three, then five, then 10. “Her form’s probably the best it’s ever been,” he recalled thinking.It was the form that Alexander had developed by jumping on trampolines and off of bleachers, allowing her to mesh elevation and optimal release points into a true jump shot — something she called a rarity in women’s basketball. The stroke that caused Syracuse assistant coach Vonn Read to email Alexander through the transfer portal last April, starting a process that revolved around one point: A vision of her as the next Miranda Drummond, SU’s all-time leading 3-point shooter.But a day after shooting around with her family, she played only two minutes against Oregon and Syracuse’s dream of Alexander having a Drummond-type impact continued to fade. She bought into Read’s initial pitch, yet has struggled to earn minutes off the bench for the Orange (5-4) — let alone the starting lineup.“I’ve got to do a better job of getting Brooke minutes to give her a chance to contribute like I know she can,” head coach Quentin Hillsman said two weeks ago. Zero starts, 43 total minutes and just two 3-pointers indicate the graduate transfer’s lack of impact in a Syracuse frontcourt filled with returning depth from last year.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textSyracuse was supposed to be the final stop where everything came together, the ending of a college journey that began at Liberty and pivoted to the University of Texas Arlington. There, Alexander had completed her transition from a pass-first to shoot-first player and ranked sixth in the Sun Belt Conference for 3-point shooting percentage last season.Growing up, she was the player that learned flashy passes early and used accelerated court vision to execute them over her head and behind her back in middle school. Alexander learned, though, that wasn’t what colleges looked for. They wanted to know if she could shoot, if she could turn defensive rebounds into points.When training with Carlos Ratliff of the West Texas Basketball Academy throughout middle school, Alexander was taught a shot with three different release points: a low one for far 3-pointers, a higher shot for launching over players and a regular jump shot that depended on the right blend of elevation and finish. Ratliff had her jump from the bleachers onto the ground to practice the release point, and on the trampoline to imitate the lift a proper jumper needed.“A lot of women’s basketball is either layups or 3s,” Alexander said. “Mid-range is something that I felt separated me.”But it still took time to initially crack the Liberty rotation. The Flames already had a senior starting guard, and Alexander resorted to rebounds, blocks and assists for her contributions. As the season progressed, Alexander became indispensable during Patriot League play, making her first start against Winthrop on Jan. 16 and leading Liberty to a 13-3 record when in the primary rotation. Head coach Carey Green said they would’ve won their conference-deciding finale had Alexander not caught the flu.A transfer closer to her home of Frisco, Texas rekindled a relationship with UTA head coach Krista Gerlich that had started when she was first recruited out of high school. But Alexander quickly discovered her offensive strengths didn’t mesh with many mid-major approaches. UTA relied on slashing to the paint with a small-ball offense that featured a 6-foot-1 guard at center last season. Alexander’s 3-point and jump shot reliance was a secondary option both years.In two seasons at University of Texas Arlington Alexander averaged 5.2 points, 1.4 assists and 2.0 rebounds per game.Corey Henry Photo EditorThe UTA staff moved Alexander to small forward, a change from her previous ball-handling roles, Mike said. She was the Mavericks’ best 3-point shooter and took most of her shots from beyond the arc, but only averaged 7.4 points per game — fourth on the team. Ratliff called Alexander’s three years in Arlington “wasted.”“She walked into a team at UTA where the coach had decided that they wanted to play a certain way and it was ‘put an odd-man out,’” Ratliff said. “Brooke was the odd-man out.”Gerlich and associate head coach Talby Justus both declined interviews for this story.That’s why Syracuse stuck out to Alexander as a grad transfer location: She would finally have the freedom to shoot in Hillsman’s offense. If she wasn’t open, she could double pump-fake and shoot anyway, Hillsman said. And if she didn’t shoot, she’d sit on the bench. Alexander could spot up for star point guard Tiana Mangakahia, she imagined at the time, though Mangakahia has since been ruled out for the season as she recovers from breast cancer treatment.But even Hillsman’s system proved to have limited shooting opportunities for Alexander, who averages a meager 1.4 points per game through 10 contests. Other guards and forwards have leapfrogged Alexander on the depth chart, and she’s mostly used to give rotation players short breathers or in the waning minutes of a blowout.“(Hillsman) just really values my 3-point shot and he wants me to look for that the most and that’s something that I understand,” Alexander said. “In a role I understood coming in here.”With under five minutes remaining in Syracuse’s Dec. 8 win against UMBC, Alexander circled around the 3-point arc as a screen moved aside one final defender. Alexander’s hand thrust in the air, waiting for an Alisha Lewis pass. It was a set play designed for Alexander off an inbounds pass, one intended to create an open 3-pointer for her. And it worked.Alexander released the ball with the closest Retriever defender in the paint, but it spun out of the rim. Alexander’s second missed 3 since she checked in a minute earlier lengthened the gap between her last made 3 – the season opener against Ohio. She still hasn’t sunk one since then.“I’ve never had a coach that if you miss 100 shots in a row and you hesitate on the 101st shot, then he’s gonna take you out,” Alexander said. “Not because you missed the 100 shots, because you hesitated on the 101st shot.”That’s why when Lewis dribbled down the court three minutes later after a UMBC make, Alexander ran parallel to the point guard and stuck both her hands out. She took another open shot, and it bounced out again. Her head dropped briefly, but then perked up.Alexander’s form was there, and that was a start. So as Elemy Colome corralled the offensive rebound, Alexander set her feet again, extended her hands and waited for a pass.“I still believe in that,” Alexander said about the vision of her in Drummond’s role. “I still think that’ll happen for me.” Commentslast_img read more