LEXINGTON, Ky. (GoMocs.com)--- The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Mocs (29-4) tasted defeat for the first time since November dropping a 59-53 decision to Syracuse (23-9) in the first round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament. A cold shooting day for the Mocs negated a strong defensive performance snapping the 25-game winning streak.
Taylor Hall tallied 19 points, 10 rebounds and six assists to lead the ladies from the Scenic City. Shakeya Leary, Brianna Butler and Brittney Sykes combined for 41 points and 30 rebounds for the Orange.
Hall tried to rally her Mocs (29-4) late. Leary gave Syracuse a 10-point advantage, 54-44, on a layup with 2:33 to play. That's when the Southern Conference Player of the Year took over.
It started 15 seconds later with a Hall trey. Two missed free throws on the Orange's possession led to more heroics. Hall tipped an Ashlen Dewart miss out to Alicia Payne who worked the ball back to Hall on the left wing. Another three for the senior from New Tazewell, Tenn., and the 10-point lead was quickly down to four, 54-50, at 1:18.
Butler got it back to five making the second of two free throws at the 53-second mark. On the ensuing possession, Hall's three was off the mark but Payne was there for the offensive board. She found Dewart who was fouled with 36.1 to play.
An unusual problem continued for the Mocs. A 72.7 percent free throw shooting team entering the game, Chattanooga was 4-12 from the line as Dewart stepped up to shoot two. Both rolled in and out. Syracuse sandwiched a final Hall three-pointer with four made free throws for the 59-53 win.
The Mocs struggled shooting the ball making 34.4 percent from the field (21-61) including 7-27 (25.9%) from beyond the arc. That was in addition to the 28.6 percent performance from the charity stripe. It spoiled a strong defensive effort.
Rachel Coffey gave the Orange a 38-31 advantage with a layup at 16:13. The Mocs went into lockdown mode on defense holding Syracuse without a field goal for nearly 13 minutes. Butler snapped the 0-13 streak at 3:41 making it a seven-point advantage. The Orange went 10-12 from the free throw line over that span to keep Chattanooga at bay.
The Mocs limited its opponent to 31.5 percent (17-54) from the field and a mere 6.7 percent from three-point range making just one of 15 attempts. The Orange can point to two areas that led to the win.
The free throw line is the glaring area with a 24-4 advantage for Syracuse, which shot 77.4 percent (24-31) for the game. The other was on the boards. The Orange was +16, 52-36, in rebounding including 19 on the offensive end.
The loss ends another championship season for the Mocs. The squad won its 18th Southern Conference regular season and 15th tourney title. They also matched the school record for wins with 29 and is 58-8 over a two-year period.
The senior class has a lot to be proud of winning two titles and making two NCAA and one WNIT appearances. Hall, Alex Black and Meghan Downes were joined by transfers Dewart (Appalachian State) and Faith Dupree (Tennessee). The four-year record was a fantastic 97-32. The quintet led an amazing 37-1 SoCon mark over their final two seasons.