In a possession game for the full 40 minutes, the careers of four outstanding Nebraska seniors came to end with a 72-69 loss to Syracuse in the first round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament at Colonial Life Arena on Friday night.
The ninth-seeded Huskers ended their season with a 21-11 overall and a 10-8 Big Ten mark. The eighth-seeded Orange improved to 22-9 overall and 11-5 in the ACC. Syracuse will advance to the second round to take on top-seeded South Carolina. The Gamecocks advanced with an 81-48 victory over 16th-seeded Savannah State.
In the final game of her outstanding Nebraska career, senior Emily Cady led the Big Red with 18 points and nine rebounds to go along with two assists and a block. Cady scored eight points in the final 3:14 of the game to bring Nebraska back from a 62-57 deficit to tie the game at 66 with her three-pointer with 1:20 left.
With Nebraska trailing 68-66, Cady also came up with a huge defensive rebound with 15.8 seconds left and was fouled after a pair of missed free throws by the Orange's Alexis Peterson. Cady made the first but missed the second, as Syracuse kept a 68-67 lead. NU was forced to foul and Peterson, who led Syracuse with 24 points, six rebounds, five assists and two steals, then closed out the Syracuse victory with four free throws in the final 15 seconds.
Fellow Nebraska senior forward Hailie Sample added a great effort of her own with 14 points, seven rebounds and two blocks. Senior guard Tear'a Laudermill added six points in the final six minutes to keep NU close. Laudermill finished with nine points and four assists.
Senior Brandi Jeffery closed out her career with five points, nine rebounds and three assists before fouling out for just the second time in her 126-game Nebraska career.
Freshman Natalie Romeo, the only non-senior in the Husker starting five, tried to help to extend the career of the Nebraska seniors by pumping in 15 points on a NU NCAA Tournament-record five three-pointers. Romeo added three rebounds, two assists and a steal.
Nebraska's four seniors end their careers with a school-record 96 wins after becoming the first group of Huskers to advance to four straight NCAA tournaments by posting four consecutive 20-win seasons.
The Big Red could not overcome a career-high 18 points from Syracuse's Cornelia Fondren, who added nine rebounds, three assists and two steals. Brianna Butler added 17 points, including the Orange's final field goal on a driving layup with 58.7 seconds left that gave Syracuse a 68-66 lead.
Syracuse outscored Nebraska 14-4 off turnovers, forcing 19 miscues by the Huskers, including 12 in the second half. NU forced only eight turnovers by the Orange, including just three after halftime.
The Orange also outscored Nebraska 22-11 in second-chance points. Syracuse's 17 offensive rebounds allowed the Orange to overcome 40.6 percent (28-69) shooting, including 6-of-21 from long range. Syracuse hit just 10-of-21 free throws, including 9-of-19 in the second half.
Nebraska outshot Syracuse, connecting on 25-of-58 field goals (.431), 7-of-21 threes (.333) and 12-of-18 three-pointers (.667), but the Orange won the possession battle with 11 more total field goal attempts.
The two teams went to the locker room tied at the half thanks to big halves from Sample and Romeo and contributions from everyone on the court. Sample scored 10 points and added two blocks, while Romeo connected on a trio of threes to put up nine first-half points.
Brandi Jeffery provided a big lift for the Big Red in the final 3:45 of the half, scoring all five of her points to help the Huskers overcome a 31-26 deficit. Jeffery added four rebounds and two assists in the half.
Tear'a Laudermill added three-points on a three-point play while contributing three assists, and Chandler Smith pitched a three-pointer on her only attempt while adding two big defensive rebounds.
The Huskers hit 38.7 percent (12-31) of their first-half shots, including 4-of-13 threes, while connecting on 8-of-10 free throws.
Syracuse outshot NU, hitting 42.9 percent (15-35), including 5-of-14 threes, but went just 1-for-2 at the free throw line. The Orange outrebounded the Huskers, 21-19, and won the first-half turnover battle, 7-5. Cornelia Fondren led the Orange with 12 first-half points, while Alexis Peterson pitched in 10 points.
Nebraska was tied despite first-half foul trouble from Emily Cady, who scored six points to go along with two rebounds and two assists despite playing just 11 minutes before being whistled for her second half with 8:02 left. Laudermill was also whistled for two first-half fouls.