LEXINGTON, Ky. - Little things.
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, the 11 seed in the Notre Dame region, had its fair share of opportunities to pull out a victory Saturday against Syracuse in the first round of the NCAA women's basketball tournament, but two things the Mocs normally are proficient in -- free-throw shooting and rebounding -- doomed them to a 59-53 loss in Memorial Coliseum.
Syracuse (23-9), the 6 seed, goes on to face host Kentucky, which routed Wright State 106-60. The Orange outrebounded UTC 52-36, with 19 of those rebounds coming on the offensive end and leading to 19 second-chance points. They also hit 24 of 31 free throws in ending the Mocs' 25-game win streak.
Taylor Hall played all 40 minutes and had 19 points, 10 rebounds and six assists to lead the Mocs, who finished 29-4 for the season. They fall to 1-12 all-time in NCAA tournament games -- the win having come against Rutgers in 2004 on UTC's home floor.
Alex Black added nine points on a trio of 3-pointers, while Faith Dupree added eight points. She started in place of Ashlen Dewart, who was day-to-day after an injury in the Southern Conference championship game, but played 11 minutes and finished with four points and four rebounds.
Jasmine Joyner added three blocks in 14 minutes. The Mocs shot 34 percent from the floor, which was better than the Orange's 31.5 percent rate that included 1-for-15 success from 3-point range.
UTC came into the game shooting 72.7 percent at the charity stripe but was 4-for-14 Saturday. The Mocs missed their first six attempts and didn't hit one until the 6:46 mark of the second half, when Joyner split a pair of free throws.
"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 -- and that makes it a little bit harder to swallow, I guess," Hall said. "Our goal has been to put 40 minutes together the entire year, and once again we didn't do that this game, and you can't have five minutes of lackadaisical effort or something like that and expect to go on in this tournament."
Shakeya Leary led the Orange with 15 points, while adding eight rebounds. Brianna Butler and Brittney Sykes added 13 points apiece, although the latter was lost to a bad knee injury in the second half. It was the first NCAA tournament win in the history of the Syracuse program.
"This was a very winnable game, and we didn't do things that we needed to do to win," UTC coach Jim Foster said. "You have to make foul shots in games like this, and you have to win X-number of races for loose balls. Some you're going to lose because there's a quickness factor involved, but if you don't go for every one of them, you're not going to win enough of them."
The Orange had 14 second-chance points in the first half, which helped them take a four-point lead at the break. They had a 9-2 run over a six-minute span that broke an 11-all tie early and gave them a seven-point edge. UTC was able to fight back and cut the lead to 20-19, but Syracuse answered again, as Sykes scored six of the team's final eight points of the half.
Hall had an up-and-under layup with four seconds left in the period to trim the lead to 28-24.
In the second half, the Mocs held the Orange without a basket for 12 minutes and 32 seconds yet weren't able to cut into the deficit -- which actually grew from six to seven in that time frame as the Orange shot 10-for-12 from the free-throw line. Then Butler's drive with 3:41 remaining gave Syracuse a 50-43 lead.
Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman wouldn't elaborate on the extent of Sykes' injury, which came with 12:46 remaining and her team clinging on to a 40-36 lead. He said the Orange spend a lot of time in practice in situations in which Sykes or Butler -- the team's two leading scorers -- is out of the game due to foul trouble, so they would feel comfortable if she can't play or is limited against Kentucky.
In her absence, Butler and Leary stepped up their effort, scoring 14 of the team's final 19 points.
"As soon as you see a great player like Brittney Sykes go down, we were definitely a little shook and we immediately brought [the team] together and said a prayer for her," Butler said. "We just came out with the mindset that we have to win this game for Brittney and everyone needs to step up the intensity and go hard, because every possession mattered.
"We definitely had to step it up on defense for her."
The game marked the end of the careers of UTC's Black, Dewart, Meghan Downes, Dupree and Hall.
"The effort, the loose rebounds that either team could've gotten, they seemed to have gotten all of those or most of those and just had the will to get them," Dupree said. "I think they wanted it more than we did. Me personally, that happened to me a few times, and I was outrebounded when I could've gotten the loose ball.
"Things like that happened throughout the whole game, and it showed on the scoreboard."
Contact Gene Henley at email@example.com or 423-757-6311. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.