Women's Basketball

No. 21 Syracuse fails to upset No. 7 Notre Dame in one of program’s biggest-ever games

Jeff Andersen | Staff Photographer

Syracuse couldn't pull off the comeback against Notre Dame in the Carrier Dome and still hasn't beaten the Fighting Irish since 2002.

The game was going to be different for Syracuse. It was clear at the start of the year, when SU head coach Quentin Hillsman said he wanted to prove his team belonged in the same conversation with other upper-echelon squads, like preseason No. 1 Notre Dame.

The expectation only ramped up in the last month as Syracuse kept its program-record 18-game home winning streak alive. Then, 11 days ago, Syracuse announced a partnership with 13 local companies that all offered group ticket discounts in attempt to set an attendance record for a women’s game in the Carrier Dome.

The Orange never pretended this game was like any other. It wasn’t. Not after the North Carolina game last week. Not during the media availability session this week. Not during the first play of the game, when Brittney Sykes rose up for a deep 3-pointer from the left wing, drained it and held up three fingers on each hand with thunderous Carrier Dome crowd as the backdrop.

“It’s a big game,” Hillsman had said. “We can’t deflect that.”

No. 21 Syracuse (18-9, 9-5 Atlantic Coast) started hot in one of its biggest regular season games in program history, hitting three quick 3s to pump itself and the crowd. In front of a record-setting 11,021 fans, Syracuse seemed ready to avenge two losses to UND last year. Ready to make sure the outcome of the game would be as different as the atmosphere.

No. 7 Notre Dame (25-3, 13-1) fought back every step of the way, and took its first lead early in the fourth quarter. Syracuse brought it back to a 3-point game but an Alexis Peterson heave with seconds left on the clock came up just short, as the Orange couldn’t finish off a monumental upset in an 85-80 loss on Sunday in the Carrier Dome.

“We played a great three quarters,” Hillsman said.

Notre Dame tilted the game back in its favor by using star big Briana Turner. In the first half, Turner mainly prowled the high post area. Syracuse was content to let her stay out there as it stopped UND’s forwards curling inside for looks.

But in the second half, the cuts were inverted. Notre Dame’s forwards flashed to the high post, drawing out center Briana Day while Turner curled onto the inside, oftentimes finding herself matched up with an SU forward. Three straight buckets for Turner to start the fourth quarter turned a four-quarter deficit into the Fighting Irish’s first lead. She finished with a career-high 31 points.

“She was getting on our forwards sometimes and it was just a mismatch from there,” Day said. “… it just threw us out of our defense.”

Hillsman made adjustments too by subbing out forward Isabella Slim for center Bria Day with seven minutes left to play with extra size on the interior. Turner only made one more field goal the rest of the way.

The Orange had found the way to slow down UND’s looks on the inside, but it failed to complete the defensive stand. SU surrendered eight offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter alone, including five in the last 3:57 of the game.

On one play, Turner got fouled on a layup and missed the and-1 opportunity. Teammate Arike Ogunbowale corralled the layup and got an extra two points for UND instead. On another, SU forced UND into a 3-pointer with one second left on the shot clock. But the visitors grabbed a long rebound.

One of the Orange’s goals, Hillsman said, was to have 20 more possessions than Notre Dame. SU won the turnover margin, but 18 offensive rebounds for UND, compared to Syracuse’s five, made achieving that goal impossible.

“When they get those offensive rebounds … off of playing 25, 30 seconds of defense,” Sykes said, “it puts pressure on us to play another 30 and now we’re playing a whole minute.”

Despite fourth-quarter errors, Syracuse fought back. Gabby Cooper hit a big 3-pointer to make it a four-point game with 36 seconds to go. Missed free throws by UND down the stretch gave the Orange one last chance to tie the game, before Peterson missed the 3-pointer.

There’s no denying that the game was different for Syracuse. Eleven thousand people waited with baited breath as Peterson’s final shot soared through the air. The Orange’s total season attendance before today’s game was a little more than 17,000.

Those fans arrived with higher expectations. Last year, SU played UND twice and did not lead once. On Sunday, the Orange led for three quarters and hung blow for blow with one of the premier programs in college basketball.

Syracuse hoped that by changing everything else — the crowd, the expectation, the lineup — it would lead to a change in final result.

But, just like Peterson’s 3-point attempt, the heave came up just short.

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