Brianna Butler played one of the greatest halves of her career, helped her team overcome a 14-point intermission deficit and led Syracuse in one of the biggest upsets in program history.
And she did it all with four fouls in the final 8:55.
The sophomore guard scored 17 points in the second half alone, which propelled the unranked Syracuse Orange (16-5, 5-3) in a shocking 78-73 victory over the No. 6 North Carolina Tar Heels (17-4, 5-2) in Chapel Hill. She totaled 22 points in the game to go along with three rebounds, three assists and four steals.
Syracuse has been in the "other teams receiving votes" category for the past few weeks. That will all change Monday when the new rankings come out. It's always precarious to call a game a "program-changing win", but this upset could be the one. The Orange proved it can hang around with an elite team and refused to get pushed aside by a perennial ACC bully.
But when the Orange trailed 46-32 at halftime, it looked bleak for Quentin Hillsman and the Orange. The Tar Heels were flying up and down the court and scoring at will. Syracuse trailed by as many as 18 points. North Carolina was playing extremely well and Syracuse certainly was not. The Orange usually thrives on fastbreak points, but it was the Tar Heels who were thriving off Syracuse turnovers.
However, there was also one key element missing for Syracuse in the first half -- Brianna Butler. Butler is the team's second highest scorer. At one point this season, she led the entire nation in three pointers made. At halftime, she had a quiet five points on 2-5 shooting.
Butler hit a three about three minutes in, which trimmed the Tar Heel lead to eight points. Still, the Tar Heels always had a counterpunch to stifle any momentum. Although the Orange struggled to mount a full comeback initially, there were other foreshadowing signs of the North Carolina downfall. The Orange began to hold its own with the sixth-ranked team. And it became the Heels, not the Orange, who were plagued by turnovers. Midway in the half, the Heels had 13 turnovers in the half compared to six field goals.
With 10:12 left and Syracuse now trailing by eleven, Butler's shooting finally turned the tide. She hit a three-pointer to open up an 11-1 run by the Orange. With 4:48 left, Taylor Ford tied the game at 65 by hitting a three of her own, this one in the right corner. Point guard Alexis Peterson was in trouble, surrounded by two defenders and the shot clock nearing zero. Peterson found an wide-open Ford, who didn't miss.
Every lucky break North Carolina got in the first half didn't seem to go the same way anymore. And every 50-50 ball now was going to Syracuse.
The Heels were rattled and it may have cost them the game. Stephanie Mavunga received a technical foul for excessively taunting Peterson, who was lying on the ground after having her shot blocked. Butler calmly stepped to the line and made the ensuing free throws. Syracuse kept the ball and didn't waste the opportunity. With Butler standing three feet behind-the-arc, her defender dared her to shoot. With one second left on the shot clock, she did -- and sunk the long-range shot.
The icing on a very sweet cake. The coronation on quite a comeback.
Syracuse took a three-point lead, one that it would not relinquish. It was also its first lead since being up 11-9. The team commenced the year's biggest weekend for Syracuse basketball with a signature win of their own. Behind Butler, the leading scorers for Syracuse were Brittney Sykes (17), Briana Day (11) and Bria Day (8).
Before the game, Hillsman told his players that this game was an opportunity.
Boy, they made the most of this one.