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Syracuse topped by No. 1 seed South Carolina, looks to change NCAA Tournament fortunes

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COLUMBIA, South Carolina — After losing at Kentucky and South Carolina the past two seasons, Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman knows his program's next step is to play these NCAA Tournament opening rounds at home.

And Hillsman may just have a club capable of that in 2015-16.

"We're a very good team playing in this environment in the NCAA Tournament," Hillsman said. "You never know, you may have to flip that back (in 2016) and come play in Syracuse."

"You know what's it's going to be there?" he continued. "Tough."

That might've given his Orange (22-10) a better shot than they had at top-seeded South Carolina, falling well behind in the first half and losing 97-68 on Sunday night.

Tiffany Mitchell and Alaina Coates had 14 points each to lead six Gamecock players in double figures. South Carolina advanced to its third Sweet 16 in four seasons and awaits either Ohio State or North Carolina in Friday's game in Greensboro, North Carolina.

For Syracuse, it's another year of knocking on someone else's door. The Orange fell at Kentucky 64-59 last year in the second round.

Hillsman's team loses just two seniors reserves from this season, leaving him plenty optimistic about what's ahead. Five of his top six scorers return, including Alexis Peterson. The sophomore guard put up 81 points her past three games — including 23 against South Carolina.

Tiffany Mitchell and Alaina Coates each scored 14 points and South Carolina (32-2) built a big first-half lead and cruised to its third Sweet 16 in four years with a 97-68 NCAA Tournament victory over Syracuse on Sunday night.

South Carolina put on a show in the season's final home game, using a 21-5 run to take control and lead by 28 at halftime.

Syracuse could not get within 20 points the rest of the way.

Aleighsa Welch added 13 points and 10 rebounds for the Gamecocks (32-2), who turned an anticipated tight rematch into a runaway by halftime.

Welch had 11 points and Asia Dozier hit three of her four 3-pointers in the opening period for the Gamecocks, who used a 21-5 run to take control.

Along with Mitchell, Coates and Welch, Southeastern Conference freshman of the year A'ja Wilson scored 13, while Dozier and backup point guard Bianca Cuevas had 12 apiece.

PHOTO: Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman reacts during the first half of a  basketball game against South Carolina in the second round of the NCAA tournament Sunday, March 22, 2015, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)
Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman reacts during the first half of a basketball game against South Carolina in the second round of the NCAA tournament Sunday, March 22, 2015, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)

It was the most points the Orange had allowed since losing 101-64 at Notre Dame last year.

"We knew if they made threes early, we'd have a problem," HIllsman said. "We had a problem."

South Carolina celebrated with the home crowd of 10,485 when the game ended. The party didn't last long, by design. "Tonight, we're going to celebrate getting a good win," Welch said. "But we still have a lot of basketball left in us."

Cornelia Fondren had 16 points for the Orange, although Syracuse's three-guard lineup of Peterson, Fondren and Brianna Butler was a combined 16 of 49 shooting.

South Carolina had 20 points in the paint all game in the first meeting. It had 26 in the opening half and 42 for the game.

LACK OF AGGRESSION

Along with Dozier's three-point shooting, Hillsman had to pull back on his tough defense when the Orange quickly picked up fouls. They were seven-to-one in that category early on. "You can't press when your best players on the bench with fouls," he said.

HOME STREAK

South Carolina completed its second straight undefeated season at home. It's won 34 straight at the Colonial Life Arena, dating back to a loss to Texas A&M late in the 2013 season.

TIP INS:

Syracuse: The Orange have averaged more than seven 3-pointers a game this season, but have not reached that total in the past three games. They had five in a regular-season win over Clemson, six in an ACC Tournament loss to Wake Forest and six in defeating Nebraska 72-69 in the NCAA Tournament opener Friday night. They struggled from 3 in the opening half as they fell behind. Syracuse finished with eight 3-pointers, most coming after the game was decided.

South Carolina: Forward Aleighsa Welch tied a school record with her 134th game played for the Gamecocks, matching the mark of Sheila Foster set from 1979-82 ... The Gamecocks shot 64.2 percent in beating Savannah State, their best showing in 13 seasons at Colonial Life Arena ... South Carolina shot 62.1 percent in the opening half, its third straight period shooting 50 percent or better.

UP NEXT

Syracuse season has ended.

South Carolina plays either Ohio State or North Carolina in the Sweet 16 next Friday night in Greensboro, North Carolina.

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