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No. 6 UNC women give up big lead, lose to Syracuse

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP)

As the pressure mounted, so did the turnovers.

No. 6 North Carolina failed to protect an 18-point lead in the second half, losing to Syracuse 78-73 on Thursday night. The Tar Heels had 18 of their season-high 29 turnovers after halftime, wilting against the Orange's half-court traps.

''We were just telegraphing. We were just looking and throwing,'' North Carolina's Diamond DeShields said. ''Obviously they're going to go where you look. They did a good job of reading our offense and reading our eyes.''

DeShields scored 21 points to lead the Tar Heels (17-4, 5-2 Atlantic Coast Conference). Stephanie Mavunga and Allisha Gray each had 16 points for North Carolina.

In addition to their turnover woes, the Tar Heels shot 31 percent in the second half after shooting 55 percent in the first.

''Usually in the second half, if it's a close game, we end up pulling away,'' DeShields said. ''This is the first time we've really had to battle like that. I would say that it's part of the maturing process.''

Brianna Butler scored 22 points to lead Syracuse (16-5, 5-3).

Brittney Sykes had 17 points for the Orange, who trailed 50-32 with 18 minutes remaining. Briana Day scored 11 points for Syracuse.

Butler scored 17 points in the second half, including a 3-pointer that put her team ahead 72-69 with 2:42 remaining.

After a North Carolina turnover, Sykes hit a jumper to give the Orange a 74-69 lead with 2:05 to play.

The Tar Heels pulled to 74-71 on a putback by Gray, but Butler answered with a jumper to seal the game.

''They have a neon light in our system to shoot the ball whenever they get ready,'' Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman said of Butler and Sykes. ''We address them as the two best players in our locker room.''

The Orange clawed back into the game with a 13-1 run to cut North Carolina's lead to 61-60 with 7:02 to play, holding the Tar Heels without a field goal for more than 7 minutes.

On many occasions, North Carolina turned over the ball before being able to attempt a shot.

''We got a little out of rhythm,'' said North Carolina associate head coach Andrew Calder, who is filling in for head coach Sylvia Hatchell while she battles leukemia. ''Once they picked off a couple of them, I thought we kind of panicked a little bit.''

Invigorated by their defense, the Orange tied the score at 67 on a shot by Butler in the paint.

Then what should have been a big play for North Carolina turned into a momentum builder for Syracuse.

Mavunga blocked a shot by Syracuse's Alexis Peterson, with DeShields scooping up the rebound and going coast to coast for a layup to give the Tar Heels a 69-67 lead.

As soon as DeShields' shot went through the net, Mavunga was called for a technical foul for taunting at the other end of the court.

Butler made both free throws to tie the score with 3:11 to play, setting the stage for her go-ahead 3-pointer on Syracuse's ensuing possession.

''It's really tough,'' Mavunga said. ''It's just uncharacteristic of me. I've never gotten a technical in my life. It was just the heat of the moment. I was just really excited about the block, I guess, so I turned around and did what the referee said was taunting. It's just hard knowing that the game really turned right there.''

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