SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- Syracuse was blown out in the NCAA tournament's second round by South Carolina last season, but this is a much-improved Orange squad. Any doubt about that was erased Friday, when the Orange pulled off a huge upset in knocking the No. 1 seed Gamecocks out of the NCAA tournament.
Syracuse prevailed 80-72 in the Sweet 16 on the strength of 26 points from Alexis Peterson, 18 from Brianna Butler and 17 from Brittney Sykes.
It was only the second loss of the season for the Gamecocks, whose other defeat was to No. 1-ranked UConn in February. South Carolina ran the table in the SEC regular season, won the conference tournament and had no problem in the NCAA tournament's opening rounds, with victories over Jacksonville and Kansas State.
And the Gamecocks had a 10-point lead at halftime -- 43-33 -- over Syracuse here at the Denny Sanford Premiere Center. But the Orange came back with a strong second half and were particularly effective in the fourth quarter.
South Carolina guard Tina Roy practically couldn't miss in the first half and had 17 points off the bench. In the second half, though, nothing would fall for her; she didn't score. That sort of summed up how this game went for the Gamecocks' perimeter.
How the game was won: Syracuse is a high-volume shooting team, but if you make enough shots, that's OK. And the Orange made enough, especially in the second half. They were 29-of-76 from the field, including 8-of-23 from the 3-point line. And the Orange looked particularly confident from the field in the decisive fourth quarter, when they came back from down 56-50 at the end of the third period.
Player of the game: Peterson was terrific on offense, going 9-of-16 from the field, and was part of a solid Syracuse defensive effort that did what the Orange needed to do against the Gamecocks.
Turning point: Peterson's banked-in 3-pointer with 6:15 left tied the game at 59. South Carolina got the lead back on A'ja Wilson's layup 17 seconds later, but it was clear the Orange were going to push this one to the wire. They did more than that, though. They took over the game in the closing minutes and finished out with the upset.
X factor: Syracuse's starting guards outplayed their South Carolina counterparts. The Gamecocks' Tiffany Mitchell and Khadijah Sessions both got into foul trouble and were not as effective as South Carolina needed them to be. Both seniors finished their careers with a game they'd probably like to do over. When the buzzer sounded, Sessions sat on the bench for a few seconds, overcome with emotion. She did not score, going 0-for-3 from the field. Mitchell had eight points, going 3-for-11 from the field.
Stat of the game: The Gamecocks' inside duo of Wilson and Alaina Coates were a combined 13-of-17 from the field for 33 points. But the bottom line is, they didn't get the ball enough.
What's next: Syracuse will face the winner of Friday's late game between No. 3 seed Ohio State and No. 7 seed Tennessee at 3:30 p.m. ET Sunday for a trip to the Women's Final Four. South Carolina's season finishes at 33-2.