Tiana Mangakahia returned to the basketball court for the first time since beating cancer. She led all scorers with 16 points, dished out three assists, grabbed seven rebounds and had four steals with one block in No. 23 Syracuse’s 50-39 win over Stony Brook on Sunday.
It took only 33 seconds for Mangakahia to make her presence felt, with an assist on the first bucket of Syracuse’s season. She would make her first bucket moments later to put the Orange up 4-0.
There was no easing Mangakahia back in. She played nine minutes in the first quarter. She led the Orange in minutes played with 36. She looked every bit the dynamic player that made her one of the nation’s best point guards two years ago. If this was a rusty Mangakahia, she is in for a monster season. Mangakahia probably should have had at least a few more assists, as she routinely found open teammates for high percentage looks. They struggled to convert those opportunities, however.
Mangakahia missed the entire 2019-20 season after being diagnosed with stage two breast cancer in June 2019. She underwent treatment including chemotherapy and multiple surgeries. In November 2019, she had her final surgery, after which she was declared cancer free.
Since then, Mangakahia has been working hard behind the scenes, trying to get ready for the 2020-21 season. She started the Orange’s first game at Stony Brook on Sunday. Prior to the game, head coach Quentin Hillsman admitted she was not 100 percent, but believes she will get there as the season progresses.
“It’s a relief, I’ll be honest with you,” Hillsman said. “When you put the ball in Tiana’s hands, you’ve got a chance. She’s been great. She’s doing good. If you didn’t know she had it, you wouldn’t know. I’m serious. She looks great. She’s playing well. I would say right now she’s probably about 80 percent. Seventy-five, 80 percent. But we’ve still got some time to go and I think by the time we get into the thick of the season, she’ll be great.
“Seventy-five, 80 percent of Tiana is probably about 95 percent of most other players in the country at that position. We’re very fortunate and blessed to have her back. More importantly, like I said in a previous interview, we’re more blessed that she’s healthy and she’s feeling well.”
Mangakahia was clearly excited to get back on the court, posting on her instagram story that the day before the game felt like Christmas Eve.
The game was an offensive struggle for both teams. Stony Brook shot just 21% from the floor overall and 12.5% from three point range. Syracuse was not much better at 29% and 11%, respectively. Kamilla Cardoso had a strong debut for the Orange. The 6-7 freshman and McDonald’s All-American scored 14 points, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked two shots in 13 minutes.
Syracuse and Stony Brook combined for 43 turnovers.
Orange forward Emily Engstler did not play for unknown reasons.
Syracuse’s home opener is Wednesday against Lincoln. That game tips at 6:00 p.m. Eastern and will be broadcast on ACC Network Xtra.