SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Zero wins in seven attempts against ranked opponents.
That’s what Coach Q and the No. 25 Orange were up against heading into its matchup against No. 13 North Carolina.
But a collaborative team effort and 20 points off the hands of Alexis Peterson gave Syracuse just enough to pull off the 61-56 upset of the Tar Heels on Thursday night in the Carrier Dome.
Syracuse Head Coach Quentin Hillsman said the game was a must-win for the team that has failed to produce any top 25 victories all season.
“We talked about just getting a top 25 win and tonightwas a huge win for us and our season,” Hillsman said. “We knew coming into this game that it was going to be a major, major part of the rest of our season getting this ‘W’ at home.”
The game started out close, with Syracuse grabbing the early lead and UNC tying it up three times in the first five minutes of play.
The Orange managed to keep the Tar Heels at bay, staving off UNC until the 13:37 mark when a jumper by junior guard N’Dea Bryant put the No. 13 ranked team up 8-6 over Syracuse, its first lead of the game.
But while the Tar Heels initially struggled to gain momentum on offense, so did Syracuse. With 11:51 remaining in the first half, North
Carolina took an 11-6 lead, as the Orange shot just 7 percent from the field.
Isabelle Slim and Brianna Butler went a combined 0-for-5 from beyond the arc, while Alexis Peterson had zero points to her name.
On the other end of the court, the Tar Heels started to find some baskets, going 5-of-12 from the field and 1-of-2 from three-point range.
At this point in the game, it looked like UNC would be heading back to Chapel Hill with another win.
But a turning point came for the Orange at the 7:38 mark when Alexis Peterson tied the game at 15-15 with a layup after a pass from Brianna Butler.
Bria Day put two more points on the scoreboard after an offensive rebound, making it 17-15, Syracuse over UNC with 5:47 left in the half.
After a pair of 3’s by Peterson and some help from senior guards Diamond Henderson and Maggie Morrison, the Orange walked into the locker room with a 10-point, 29-19 lead over the Tar Heels.
UNC Head Coach Sylvia Hatchell said the Tar Heels knew it would be tough to play the Orange at home in the Dome
“They’re scrappy kids and they play hard,” Hatchell said. “They’re always extremely competitive.”
The Orange began the second half strong after a missed 3-pointer by Brianna Butler resulted in an offensive rebound by Briana Day.
Peterson passed the ball to Slim, who sank a jumper for two.
The bucket gave Syracuse a 31-19 lead, its largest of the night.
Both teams went back and forth, the Tar Heels unable to get within more than 6 points of the Orange until the 13:46 mark when freshman guard Jaime Cherry made a shot from long-range.
The three-pointer cut the Syracuse lead down to three points at 38-35.
North Carolina kept the score close for the remainder of the game, never more than seven points behind the Orange.
In fact, a 3-pointer by sophomore guard Jessica Washington gave UNC a one-point lead over Syracuse with 5:18 left in the game.
The score flipped again after a jumper by Peterson put the Orange up by one at the 3:41 mark.
After Peterson put two more on the scoreboard with a layup, Taylor Ford made her third 3-pointer of the night to give Syracuse a seven-point lead with 2:02 left on the clock.
Fouls called on Briana Day and Butler allowed the Tar Heels to get back within 3 points of the lead with just 17 seconds of playing time in the game.
Coach Q said his team had a chance to give up the win late in the game, but managed to stay on track.
“I thought that our kids really buckled down,” Hillsman said. “Got some stops, got some key rebounds, and made some shots and that was really, really big for us.”
Brianna Butler went to the line for two shots after a foul was called UNC, but the junior guard missed both shots and lost the opportunity to give her team a five-point cushion in the final seconds of play.
The Tar Heels rebounded the ball and went down the court for a chance to tie the game, only to miss a 3-pointer, grab an offensive rebound, and have the ball stolen by Peterson.
After being fouled, Peterson went to the line and made both shots, giving the Orange a 61-56 lead with 4 seconds left in the game.
Peterson said her team knew the importance of getting this win after the Orange failed to defeat any ranked teams before Thursday night’s game.
“We never gave up,” Peterson said. “We continued to play with a sense of urgency.”
UNC went for the last-chance shot, throwing the ball down the court where Briana Day ended the game with a steal.
Peterson ended the night with 20 points, shooting 3-of-5 from the three-point line.
But she had plenty of help from her teammates in the win.
Nine players scored for the Orange, including Ford who had the second-most points on the night with 12.
Ford shot 3-of-4 from the three-point line.
Cornelia Fondren ended the game with 9 points, while the SU bench accounted for 22 total points in the victory.
The Orange shot just 27 percent from the field, but made good use of the glass, grabbing 19 offensive rebounds and scoring 16 second-chance points.
With Thursday’s win over the Tar Heels, the Orange bumps its overall season record up to 16-7 and move to 6-4 in the ACC.
Peterson said her team wants to keep the momentum going after defeating its first ranked opponent.
“We know we’ve struggled somewhat against these big teams,” Peterson said. “But you can never doubt our heart and our hustle and how we’ve competed in these games, so we’re going to continue to do that.”
Syracuse heads down to Atlanta this weekend to face Georgia Tech (14-9, 4-5) on Sunday afternoon.