At times, the effort was there. Brianna Butler's outside shooting display was there. But the result was the same.
Syracuse's upset bid fell short on Thursday night. The Orange (11-4, 0-2) lost to the third-ranked Duke Blue Devils, 86-53, in the Carrier Dome. Duke ended Syracuse's perfect home record -- previously 7-0 -- and extended the Orange losing streak to three games. The Blue Devils (15-1) couldn't pull away in the first half, but eventually their efficient offensive attack was too much to handle. It's their 14th straight win against unranked opponents.
"They played really well," coach Quentin Hillsman said about his opponent. "They really pushed the tempo, attacked us and made shots. They did a phenomenal job tonight of just being who they are -- an elite program, the No. 3 team in the country."
To match the ACC powerhouse required an exceptional performance. But Syracuse's display was quite the opposite. And Hillsman took all the blame for his team's sleepy play.
"It's my responsibility to put a good product on the floor," he said. "Tonight we didn't have a good product on the floor and I take full responsibility for that."
Brittney Sykes scored a season-low eight points for Syracuse on 4-13 from the field and turned the ball over eight times. In fact, Sykes' lowest three scoring games have came in the past three games. Even so, Sykes alone could not have saved Syracuse. The Blue Devils shot an impressive 56 percent as a team, twice as high as SU.
But in the first few minutes of the game, Syracuse just couldn't miss. After starting 0-2 from the field, the Orange took a complete 180. The team hit the next five shots and went up 13-4 by the 17:40 mark. That shooting streak included a pair of three pointers from Butler and one from Rachel Coffey. It included a nice steal by Rachel Coffey, which led to a Sykes layup in transition. A few minutes later, Butler and freshman guard Isabella Slim hit back-to-back threes and Syracuse maintained a seven point lead. The Orange had to hit every open shot to pull off the miracle. They had to do everything just right. For a few minutes, it seemed plausible.
But just as quickly as Syracuse took a sizable lead, Duke took it away. The Blue Devils went on a 15-2 run and midway in the half, they led 27-21.
Sykes and Shakeya Leary played well late in the half, which allowed the Orange to hang around with Duke. The Blue Devils scored the last two field goals before intermission, but only went to halftime with a nine point lead.
Syracuse's miracle dream was becoming less and less of a reality. And when the buzzer sounded to begin the second half, the clock struck midnight. About eight minutes in, that nine-point halftime lead doubled to 18 points.
"There's times when teams goes on a run and we have to make the decision whether we want to fight back or continue to let them make that run," Sykes said. "And today, we just let them make too many."
Syracuse struggled to keep up with the speedy Blue Devils, who dominated in transition-- not only after Syracuse turnovers, but made baskets.
"As soon as we would score, they would get the ball out and push the ball up the court," Butler said. "We just had to get back in transition and that's something that they beat us at."
The 2-3 zone couldn't contain Duke, which came into the night third in the nation with a 50.1 shooting percentage. Whether it was in the paint, at the elbow or from three, the result was the same.
The Orange, on the other hand, lacked any scoring punch. Butler scored 17 points, but was the team's only player who reached double-digits. Hillsman shuffled his lineup later on, but to no avail. Syracuse scored a dismal 19 points in the second half, en route to the team's lowest scoring game of the season.
Including a loss on Sunday to NC State, the Orange hasn't had quite the fairy tale entrance into the ACC.
"We have a lot of games left on the schedule," Sykes said. "We're just getting a feel out for it. Now we know we have to be a tough basketball team 100 percent for 40 minutes on the court."
But Hillsman promised that Syracuse's poor play won't continue.
"You won't see a product like this on the floor again from the Syracuse women's basketball team. Ever."