Syracuse women hold off Chattanooga 59-53

JOSH ABNER Associated Press Published:

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) -- Chattanooga entered the NCAA tournament with the nation's third-longest winning streak of 25 games.

Next season, Lady Mocs coach Jim Foster wants his team to come in with more toughness.

Chattanooga had chances to capitalize on Syracuse's poor shooting and an injury to its leading scoring, but lost 59-53 to the sixth-seeded Orange in Saturday's first-round NCAA tournament game.

Chattanooga (29-4) hit just 4 of 14 from the foul line while Syracuse (23-9) converted 24 of 31 attempts.

"You have to get tougher," Foster said. "Bottom line. You shouldn't miss foul shots. You shouldn't miss opportunities to get a loose ball. You shouldn't miss a box-out. That's toughness. It's one of the more difficult things to instill in today's child."

Senior Taylor Hall, the Southern Conference's player of the year, led the Lady Mocs with 19 points and 10 rebounds.

"Losing is never fun, but it's even more frustrating whenever it's things such as missed free throws, not getting rebounds, things that we should be able to control each day," Hall said. "That makes it a little bit harder to swallow."

In his first year at Chattanooga, Foster earned his 27th NCAA tournament appearance with a record fourth school. Inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame last June, he previously took St. Joseph's, Vanderbilt and Ohio State to the tournament.

The Lady Mocs hadn't lost since November but their schedule, especially league opponents, had been questioned heading into the tournament.

"The fact of the matter is we need to be good enough to win in this tournament, not just get in this tournament," Foster said. "We need to be good enough to compete at a level in this tournament where we can go somewhere. Your league shouldn't be an excuse. Who you play in January and February shouldn't be an excuse. You've got to get tough enough."

Shakeya Leary made 7 of 8 from the line to lead Syracuse with 15 points.

Syracuse guard Brittney Sykes had 13 points and 12 rebounds before injuring her right knee with 12:46 remaining. The Orange stayed strong without their top scorer, using a 52-36 rebounding edge to stretch the lead to 10 with 2:33 left before withstanding a late Chattanooga rally featuring three 3-pointers from Hall.

Hall's final 3-pointer cut the Orange's lead to 57-53 with 13 seconds left. Leary sank two free throws four seconds later for the final margin.

Brianna Butler was just 2 of 11 from the floor but hit 9 of 10 free throws for 13 points. Nine of her points came after Sykes went down.

The Orange will face third-seeded Kentucky in the second round on Monday night.

Syracuse's strong foul shooting offset its 17-of-54 performance (32 percent) from the field. Chattanooga also struggled to make shots, hitting just 21 of 61 (34 percent).

Chattanooga's Faith Dupree hit her second jumper in the first two minutes of the second half to bring the Lady Mocs within 30-28, the closest they came the rest of the game.

Tough defense and lackluster shooting marked the first half and both teams made below 36 percent. Syracuse hit 2 of 13 attempts (15 percent) from behind the arc while Chattanooga was 1 of 9 (11 percent) from long range.

A 14-7 edge on second-chance points helped the Orange to a 28-24 halftime lead. Hall's up-and-under score with four seconds left in the half cut the Syracuse lead to four at the break.

Foster thanked his five seniors for smoothing the way following coach Wes Moore's departure after 15 years for North Carolina State.

"They made the transition seamless," Foster said of the group. "It could have been difficult. They could have wanted it to be difficult. They were coachable. When the freshmen walked in, they realized they were supposed to be coachable. They made it very easy.

Foster also knows his team will be more seasoned next year if they can make a third straight trip to the NCAAs.

"We're going to play Tennessee, Stanford and Notre Dame next year so we better get tough," he said.