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Nebraska can't chase down Syracuse in NCAA Tournament opener

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COLUMBIA, South Carolina — Nebraska coach Connie Yori knows the moment will hit her and very soon: The foundation she and the Cornhuskers have leaned on the past four years is gone.

The four seniors in forwards Emily Cady and Hailie Sample, and guards Tear'a Laudermill and Brandi Jeffery who registered four straight NCAA Tournament appearances played their last college game Friday night in a 72-69 loss to Syracuse to open NCAA play.

"For our four seniors, it's the end of an era," Yori said. "They left Nebraska basketball a lot better than when they got here."

And they almost kept the achievements coming.

Cady rallied Nebraska (21-11) from five points down to tie the game at 66-all on her 3-pointer with just over a minute to play. After Brianna Butler's go-ahead basket, Cady had another chance to tie things, but missed the second of two foul shots and Syracuse (22-9) held on.

Nebraska's 96 wins the past four seasons led the Big Ten Conference.

It was a difficult defeat for Cady and her classmates, who had hoped to win an NCAA opener for the third time in their careers.

"I think we're all really proud of what we've done," she said. "For the younger ones, I think they're going to keep working hard and Nebraska basketball is going to keep going."

Butler had 17 points and Alexis Peterson had 24 points, four at the foul line in the last minute for Syracuse.

Cady led Nebraska with 18 points.

Neither team could break free of the other in the second half until Syracuse moved in front 62-57 on Butler's jumper with 4:49 left. Nebraska tied it up one last time, at 66-all, on Cady's 3-pointer with 1:24 to go. That's when Butler got free inside for the go-ahead shot and the Orange held on to win their NCAA Tournament opener for the second straight season.

Nebraska had a final chance to tie, but Cady missed the second of two foul shots and the Huskers could not recover.

PHOTO: Nebraska's Tear'a Laudermill, left, and Syracuse's Bria Day chase the ball during the first half of a women's college basketball game in the first round of the NCAA tournament, Friday, March 20, 2015, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Travis Bell)
Nebraska's Tear'a Laudermill, left, and Syracuse's Bria Day chase the ball during the first half of a women's college basketball game in the first round of the NCAA tournament, Friday, March 20, 2015, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Travis Bell)

"When it left my hand, I thought it was going in," Cady said. "Sometimes, you miss."

Fondren added 18 points for Syracuse.

Natalie Romeo had 15 points and Hailie Sample added 14 for Nebraska, which had advanced past the NCAA's opening game in three of its previous four trips.

Syracuse and Nebraska were a couple of tournament teams uncertain if they'd make the field a month or so ago. The Orange had lost three of five games in the midst of Atlantic Coast Conference play, but turned things around by winning four of their final five to come to South Carolina as an eighth-seed.

Nebraska opened the season 17-4, then lost leading scorer Rachel Theriot to an ankle injury. The Huskers went 4-5 down the stretch, yet still got the call for their fourth straight NCAA Tournament appearance.

FOUL PROBLEMS

Yori said having regular point guard Brandi Jeffrey out of the game at the end after fouling out did not help her team's ball-handling in crunch time. Yori said her young reserve Chandler Smith is not as accustomed to late game situations. "We'd like to have gotten a shot off on that possession, that's for sure," she said.

TIP-INS:

Nebraska: Cady tied a Nebraska record with her 132nd career start. The senior matched the mark Lindsey Moore, who had 132 straight starts from 2010-13.

Syracuse: This is the Orange's third straight NCAA Tournament trip, a first in program history ... The Orange average nearly 15 turnovers a game. They had just eight against Nebraska.

UP NEXT

Nebraska's season is over

Syracuse will take on top-seed South Carolina on Sunday.

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