Facebook Twitter Google+ Tiana Mangakahia wasted little time establishing herself as Syracuse’s best player and one of the best passers in the nation last season. Eight-straight games with double-digit assists to start the campaign. Fourteen double-doubles. Forty-four points in one game.By the end of the season she’d broken multiple records, including the Atlantic Coast Conference single-season assists mark. Mangakahia’s 304 dimes not only led the conference, but the nation as well. But she also led the country in turnovers, by a wide margin.Eventually, they piled up. During games that she committed a lot of turnovers, she stressed over her decision making and told herself that she needed to limit them.This season, she has. Through 25 games, the redshirt junior has cut down on her turnovers significantly and is averaging just 3.68 per game, a full two giveaways less than last year. A focus in the offseason on being smarter with passes, combined with more patience and poise on the court, has upped Mangakahia’s game. Her improved passing, along with jumps in her shooting percentages, have helped push No. 18 Syracuse’s (19-6, 8-4 ACC) offense to the next level.“Last year I was forcing things and trying to create things that just weren’t there,” Mangakahia said. “It’s my mentality, I don’t really want to turn the ball over, I hated turning the ball over.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textTalia Trackim | Digital Design DirectorAfter having just three games with two or fewer turnovers in her first season with the Orange, Mangakahia has nine such games this year. As for games with no turnovers at all, she’s already doubled last season’s mark of one.Aside from individually being more conscious of the passes that she’s making, Mangakahia’s been helped by a few other factors this season. The foremost is added guard depth, specifically with the addition of Kiara Lewis, who transferred from Ohio State. Lewis is in her first year with Syracuse after transferring from Ohio State.Last season, Mangakahia was almost always on the court and had to be the team’s sole distributor. That’s changed this season thanks to Lewis’ point guard skills. She’s already tallied more assists (51) than the second-highest mark on the team last year and has allowed Mangakahia to take more frequents breaks and play off the ball.“Tiana’s playing less minutes so it’s not taking much of a toll on her,” associate head coach Vonn Read said. “I think last year we asked her to do a lot … she’s playing with a lot more confidence this year.”With a year under her belt, Mangakahia’s earned more confidence from her head coach.“You have to allow your point guard to make some mistakes and be able to get back on the other end and get a stop,” Hillsman said earlier this season. “I’ve been a little more conscious of that and trying to let her play through some mistakes and not try to over-correct her … I haven’t had to correct much. She’s been doing a really good job.”Her improved maturity offensively has impacted her shooting efficiency, as well. Mangakahia took the most shots on the team last year but was only the fourth-most efficient shooter. Her range from deep was even worse. Of the 142 3-pointers that she took, she only made 41 of them — an abysmal 28.9 percent.Her percentages this year are up across the board. She’s up to 36 percent from 3, second-best on the team. From the field as a whole, she’s up to 44 percent, 1.8 percentage points better than last season. Her ability to shoot off the dribble has taken a leap, too, something her teammates credit to her “always” being in the gym.Having the added skill in her repertoire has allowed Mangakahia to bail out Syracuse’s offense at the end of shot clocks when everyone else is covered. Most recently against North Carolina State on Feb. 13, Mangakahia nailed a 3-pointer with eight seconds left in the first half to give SU the lead after a possession in which the rest of the offense was stagnant.“We have a point guard who isn’t just a passer,” Engstler said. “She knows how to score, and a lot of real point guards, you don’t find that skill. So I think it’s a big factor, because she already has the ball in her hands, so if she can go and score for us when the time goes 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 — it’s gonna help us a lot.”As Mangakahia goes, so does the Syracuse offense. Over time, Hillsman’s learned to give Mangakahia more control of the offense. When she has freedom, he said, she can “really play her game,” and more often than not, that translates into success as a team for Syracuse. It may have taken Mangakahia a season to work out her ball security issues, but after a turnover-less game in SU’s most recent contest against Wake Forest, she’s proving that those struggles are in the past.“There’s times where I say, ‘We need you to keep the ball in your hands a little bit longer and make a decision,’” Hillsman said. “When the ball is in her hands, we have a chance to make plays … she’s stepped up in key moments and made some big plays and has been able to help us win.” Comments Published on February 20, 2019 at 11:13 pm Contact Eric: email@example.com | @esblack34
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