It looked like it would be smooth sailing against North Carolina when the Lady Orange jumped out to a 10-0 lead less than two minutes into the game. The lead would grow to as much as 12, but the Tar Heels hung around before finally taking the lead 4:07 to go. It would be back and forth from there before the Tar Heels (12-5, 2-0) iced it with free throws with less than a second to go to hand Syracuse (11-4, 1-1) a 77-73 loss.
"Gotta give them a lot of credit," Syracuse head coach Quentin Hillsman said. "They started attacking the basket and doing the things you've got to do to win the basketball game."
Just looking at a stat sheet, you would think the Orange came out ahead. Hillsman said the team did what they wanted to, just couldn't close it out.
"You look at it, and we played our way," he said. "We had 25 more shots than them. Won the turnover battle, had 13 more rebounds than them, 29 offensive rebounds. That's a tough one to lose."
The Orange shot 32.2% from the field, 31% from three. But when you allow a team to shoot 48.4% for the game and 57.1% in a half, you're not going to come out ahead much.
"We've got to figure out how they shot 57 percent in the second half," Hillsman said. "That's just us not guarding the ball."
The Orange started out hot, hitting four of their first seven shots. Brianna Butler had six points in the first three minutes, both long three pointers. She wasn't the only Syracuse player that started hitting every shot she took. Alexis Peterson scored nine first quarter points to help the Orange to a 24-19 lead at the end of one quarter.
Peterson finished with a team-high 22 points.
The second quarter started out with much of the same. Brittney Sykes hit a three 25 seconds into the quarter and a few minutes later, Butler caught fire again and knocked down two three-pointers 36 seconds apart to give the Orange their largest lead of the game at 12.
That's when the Tar Heels woke up and started to chip away at the Syracuse lead. Over the final four minutes of the half, the Tar Heels scored 10 points to cut the lead to 39-33.
Butler scored 12 of her 19 points in the first half, pacing the Orange. At that point she was 4-8 from three.
"It gives you so much confidence when you start shooting well like that," Butler said. "It just sucks we couldn't come away with the win."
North Carolina started the comeback at the end of the third quarter, but took over the game in the final period led by freshman Stephanie Watts. She scored seven over her game-high 22 points in the fourth quarter.
Watts continuously sliced through the Syracuse defense for layups or shot over everyone for long three pointers. When she wasn't tearing up the team herself, she was finding an open teammate. She was two assists shy of a triple-double, finishing with 22 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists.
Syracuse fell into foul trouble late, with three players finishing with four fouls and Briana Day, playing just 20 minutes from her home in Raleigh, fouling out. She finished with 13 points and 8 rebounds.
"You can't play scared," Hillsman said. "We just weren't playing like we should out there late."
Next up, Syracuse will try to get back to their winning ways Sunday at home against Virginia Tech.