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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (cuse.com) – The No. 14/15 Syracuse women's basketball team continues its historic season as it danced its way into the program's first Final Four with an 89-67 victory over Tennessee.
The contest sets the program record for the most points scored in an NCAA Tournament game by the Orange with 89, while junior guard Alexis Peterson broke her own program record for points scored in an NCAA Tournament contest with 29 – her fourth-consecutive game with more than 20 points. Peterson contributed six assists, four rebounds and three steals as well in the effort, while senior guard Brianna Butler added 18 points of her own in the win.
Junior forward Isabella Slim knocked down the first points of the game for the Orange and back-to-back 3-pointers from senior guards Maggie Morrison and Butler allowed Syracuse to take the lead at 10-9 for Syracuse with 5:01 on the clock in the first quarter. However, Tennessee controlled much of the first quarter. The Lady Vols led by as much as seven with less than a minute left in the period but junior guard Alexis Peterson drilled a triple and a jumper to cut that lead to two, 22-20, as time ticked out in the first quarter.
Peterson came out ready to go in the second quarter, knocking down two more 3-pointers, forcing Tennessee to call a timeout as the Orange retook the lead, 28-26, with 6:05 left before halftime.
Momentum continued in Syracuse's favor as Butler got hot putting up two triples on back-to-back possessions for Syracuse, extending the lead to 39-31 with 2:43 left in the quarter. The Orange went into the locker room with a 41-35 advantage at the end of the first half. The nine three pointers hit in the first half by the Orange ties the most the club has hit in a half this season.
Syracuse came into the second half hungry. Senior guard Cornelia Fondren but put up two lay-ups in the opening minutes and the Orange took a 49-38 lead at 7:08 in the third. Eleven points from Tennessee's Diamond DeShields brought the score to 54-51 Syracuse advantage with 3:18 on the clock in the third. Morrison put two more triples on target and the Orange finished out the first quarter, leading 63-56. Fondren couldn't miss and went 6-for-6 from the field in the first three quarters of play.
Coming into the third quarter, Tennessee pulled back within four but Butler stepped back and hit two more triples to push the lead back to 10, 69-59 with 8:39 left in the contest. It was all Butler and Peterson, combining for 16 points in the first half of the final quarter and the Orange went up by 18 with five minutes left, 79-61.
From there, it was all celebration for 'Cuse. The Orange defense once again came up big in the game, with 21 forced Tennessee turnovers. Syracuse has forced 19-or-more turnovers in every NCAA Tournament game this season. SU took much better care of the ball offensively, only turning it over seven times in the win.
Syracuse finished the game shooting 46-percent from the field and 47-percent from behind the arc, sinking 14-of-30 attempts from long range.
Fondren, Butler and Peterson were named to the Sioux Falls Regional All-Tournament Team for their play this weekend.
The Orange dance again in the program's first Final Four in Indianapolis next weekend, where they'll face a familiar foe, seventh-seeded Washington, which Syracuse defeated 66-62 in Las Vegas earlier this season.