Syracuse entered Sunday's second round matchup with Albany looking to advance to the first Sweet-16 in program history, and showed nerves early. The Orange missed their first three shots from the floor and missed two free-throws as Albany got on the scoreboard first.
Syracuse recovered after a Brianna Butler three calmed things down. They took control in the second quarter, and cruised to a 76-59 victory to reach the historical milestone.
Syracuse will face the winner of No. 9 seeded Kansas State and No. 1 seed South Carolina. The Gamecocks knocked the Orange out of the tournament last season.
“It means a lot. Obviously we are always building. At the beginning of the year I always say our goal is to go undefeated and win a national championship. Everyone kind of smirks and then writes it in their article. It is our goal every year to win a national championship, we are just at that next step to getting that."
Alexis Peterson and Brittney Sykes had huge performances for Syracuse. Peterson had 22 points, while Sykes poured in a game-high 24. Peterson also dished out six assists while Sykes had three steals.
Maggie Morrison added 11 points for the Orange including two three-pointers.
"We knew they would be in the zone and we had to shoot ball," head coach Quentin Hillsman said. "We had to win the overall points per possession. Alexis (Peterson) was amazing. Brittney Sykes was amazing. Bria Day came off the bench for us and Maggie Morrison hit some tough shots for us.
"Brianna (Day) got back in the game and took it home for us. It is really about all our players’ hard work and I am just really excited for them that we are moving on to the next round.”
The Great Danes took an 11-6 lead with 2:34 left in the first quarter and seemed to be in control, led by All-American Shereesha Richards who finished with a team-high 23 points. Syracuse gained momentum by closing the quarter on an 11-2 run and starting the second on a 9-2 run to push their lead to as many as 11 in the first half.
Their run was spurred by their aggressive, full-court pressure defense that forced 13 first half Albany turnovers. Syracuse scored 13 points off of those turnovers. Overall, Syracuse scored 20 points off of 23 Albany turnovers. The Orange held the Great Danes to just 33% shooting on the afternoon.
Syracuse was able to spurt ahead despite starting center Briana Day picking up two early fouls. Briana's sister, Bria Day, played 18 of the first 20 minutes in relief. She played well with two blocks and four boards.
Redshirt junior guard Brittney Sykes opened the second half with seven straight points. The Orange went on a 10-1 run late in the third quarter to seize complete control. They cruised in the fourth to advance to the first Sweet-16 in the history of Syracuse women's basketball.
“It was euphoric, but to be honest it is really hard to explain," Sykes said. "I am just so happy for our team and coach. We talk so much about in our walk throughs and I daydream about going to the Sweet 16. It was a long time coming and this program has been building since Coach Q (Quentin Hillsman) came here.
"It feels so great to get to the Sweet 16 and we just have to go out and get to the next one.”