On senior night in Clemson, a Syracuse sophomore stole the show.
On a night when the Orange saw its 16-point lead shrink to just one, Alexis Peterson saved the day just as she has for her team all season.
Peterson scored a game-high 18 points including a pair of back-to-back jumpers in the final two minutes of the game. It helped the Orange hold off a huge comeback from the Clemson Tigers and finish the regular season with a 60-55 win in Littlejohn Coliseum.
"You're on the road in a BCS power conference and you get a W, you'll take it," head coach Quentin Hillsman told Cuse TV. "That's just what it is. You'll run with it."
The Orange clinched a fifth seed in the ACC Tournament, but could move up to fourth. They would earn the double bye if Duke loses its last game on Sunday against North Carolina. A few weeks ago, Hillsman said that ten conference wins would guarantee Syracuse a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Now his team has one more than that and a few days to rest before returning south for the conference tourney.
It was an ending that seemed inevitable, but came into question during a tense final few minutes. The Orange grabbed a ten point lead at intermission and expanded on it at the beginning of the second half. But the usual problems crept in during a second half collapse, allowing the downtrodden Tigers to hang around with their ranked opponent. The Orange missed a high percentage of its 3's, gave away points at the free throw line and got another inefficient shooting night from Brianna Butler.
In the end, though, Syracuse accomplished what it's done almost without fail this year: take care of business against a team it was expected to beat.
"We took care of our business," Hillsman said. "You know, all we can do is win our game and let things play out the way they'll play out. We're happy with the ending to our season."
Syracuse saw its double digit lead turn to just one when the Tigers used a 19-6 run in the second half. But Peterson saved Syracuse from an embarrassing loss to Clemson, who was looking for only its second win in conference play.
With 1:45 left in the game, Peterson passed up an open 3-pointer and moved a few steps inside the perimeter for a smooth mid-range jumper that gave her team a 56-52 lead. About a minute later, she pulled up at the same spot around the right elbow. The Tigers conceded that shot and she punished them with another floater so similar it looked like an instant replay.
Syracuse's point guard continued to play well and Syracuse continued to win -- a simple formula for the Orange this year. Peterson has scored in double figures in 24 games this season, all but five coming in Syracuse wins.
"Players make plays," Hillsman said. "And that's exactly what she did. She made some tough plays late and we've got to give her a lot of credit just for being tough and finishing the game off.