The final play unfolded just how Quentin Hillsman could have wanted.
His top scorer, Alexis Peterson, took the ball near the top of the key, created separation by driving around a defender and pulled up for an open shot about 15 feet away from the basket. Peterson sunk the shot at the buzzer and tied the game for Syracuse.
The only problem: it came two days too late -- at the end of the first half against Michigan State, rather than at the end of the game against Baylor.
Two nights before, Peterson just missed a running floater with a few seconds left, which could have pushed the Lady Bears into overtime. But this time, the Orange didn't have any late drama.
After Peterson's buzzer beater before intermission, the Orange (8-3) had a defensive meltdown in the second half and lost, 89-76, to the Spartans in the second game of the Florida Sunshine Classic. Michigan State, who's ranked No. 18/21, shot 54 percent as a team and Syracuse saw its halftime tie turn into a double-digit defeat.
The Spartans finished the game on a 22-11 run, led by Aerial Powers, their star forward. Powers had a game-high 32 points and added 17 rebounds, four steals and three blocks. Powers scored 18 points in the second half alone and kept Syracuse center Briana Day to a quiet nine-point performance on the other end.
For most of the afternoon, Syracuse seemed to be headed to another down-to-the-wire finish. There were nine lead changes and the Orange even led with 14:18 to go. The speedy backcourt duo of Peterson and Diamond Henderson combined for 31 points and proved to be tough to stop for Michigan State's guards.
Early in the second half, Syracuse guard Cornelia Fondren made an acrobatic play to save the ball from going out of bounds. Her behind-the-back lob set up a Peterson jumper, which put Syracuse in front by one. Peterson's mix of shooting touch, driving ability and defensive hustle kept the Spartans off balance throughout the game.
But, again, the Orange faltered in the crucial moments against top competition, a dangerous trend that's kept Hillsman's teams from taking the next step. Besides this loss, the Orange blew a ten-point lead against No. 1 South Carolina and surrendered a four-point advantage in the last three minutes against No. 9 Baylor.
It hasn't helped that Brianna Butler has shot just under 28 percent in those three losses. She went 6-20 on Sunday and turned the ball over four times.
"To lose by a little bit in the last minutes of the game, it's kind of hard on us," Butler told The Daily Orange's Josh Hyber. "The good thing is that we're able to compete with these big-time schools. But we have high expectations to do better."
Syracuse is now 10-46 against top 25 competition under Hillsman. And this season, the Orange has gone 0-3 in those games and won all eight against unranked teams. Syracuse came close to a pair of resume-building wins this weekend, but wasted its chance by coming up small in the biggest moments.