The Syracuse women's basketball team has never won a game in the NCAA tournament. Not once. But for just one weekend, for one night, the Orange get to feel like champions.
The Syracuse Orange is Reef Division champions of the Paradise Jam in St. Thomas. The Orange concluded a big day for Syracuse with a 78-63 win over the No. 13/11 Texas A&M Aggies. By upsetting A&M, the 2011 national champions, and sweeping the three game Round Robin format, Syracuse won the tournament and improved to 8-0 on the season.
More importantly, the Orange added an impressive non-conference win. In the short term, it boosts Syracuse's bid to get back in the rankings this week. In the long term, it bolsters Syracuse's tournament resume, which already includes wins over teams from the PAC-12, Big 12 and AAC.
Sophomore guard Brianna Butler capped her tournament MVP performance with a career-high 29 points against Texas A&M. She had 18 points against Texas and 23 against Memphis, before turning in a brilliant shooting display on Saturday night.
The Aggies altered their lineup and implemented a three-guard system to adjust to Syracuse's press. Credit goes to Quentin Hillsman for forcing an elite team like A&M to game plan around his system. For a while, it looked the like the move was paying off.
The Aggies started the game 7-10 from the field and jumped out to an early six point lead. But it didn't last, partly because of some good minutes from backup point guard Alexis Peterson. She scored six points and dished out two assists in only 14 minutes of play.
But the star of the show was Brianna Butler, who shot 7-12 from three point range. Several came midway in the second half when the outcome was still in question. Syracuse's lead shrunk from 18 to nine points, just before Butler got hot. Peterson inbounded the ball to Butler, who hit a corner three to put SU up 58-46. On the next possession, Butler dribbled the ball from the right side. She curled around a few players and then converted another three from the top of the key. Just a minute later, she made another long-range shot over the outstretched hands off a defender, following a media timeout.
Other double-digit scorers for the Orange were Brittney Sykes (15) and Shakeya Leary (14). Leary scored Syracuse's first eight points. She kept the Orange in the game early when the offense struggled to find any rhythm.
The Aggies turned the ball over more than they should, but overall they played a solid game. They out-rebounded Syracuse, got to the free throw line more and even led in bench points.
The Aggies didn't lose the game; the Orange won it.
Syracuse shot 47 percent from the field and was 14-17 (82.4 percent) from the free throw line.
Next up for Syracuse is Iowa. The Orange travel to Iowa City to face the Hawkeyes in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge on Thursday night.