Even at less than its best, the University at Buffalo was still good enough to beat Syracuse.
The Bulls shook off the rust from an 11-day layoff to defeat the Orangewomen, 67-58, Saturday night before 1,042 at Alumni Arena.
Senior guard Charissa Gardner scored 14 points, freshman forward Tiffany Bell added 13 and senior point guard Catherine Jacob netted 12 to lead UB (8-3) to its fourth straight win.
Buffalo had not played since blowing out Niagara, 87-60, in Marine Midland Arena on Dec. 9. It showed.
The Bulls were sloppy throughout the contest, committing a season-high 28 turnovers (16 in the second half) and missing countless uncontested layups.
But UB managed the pull away by shooting 57.1 percent from the field in the second half and shutting down the Syracuse offense.
The Orangewomen (7-2) made just 31.8 percent of their shots and had a season-high 23 turnovers in losing to the Bulls for the fourth time in five meetings.
"With the long layoff, plus a week of final exams, I definitely think we were very rusty," said UB coach Sal Buscaglia. "We didn't run the floor well and we didn't make good decisions on the fast break.
"On the other hand, I'm very proud of the way we hung in there. We found a way to win and that's what counts."
SU has a lot of talented athletes, but UB was clearly the better team. It just took the Bulls a while to show it.
Finger nails on a chalk board come to mind when describing the first half, which ended with UB ahead, 25-21, despite shooting a miserable 28.6 percent from the field and turning the ball over 12 times.
"It was a very frustrating game for us," Gardner said. "Every time it seemed like we were going to start playing well, we go through bad stretches where we are throwing the ball away and making bad decisions. We just couldn't get going."
SU wasn't much better (16 turnovers and 30.8 percent shooting) in the opening half, a fact coach Marianna Freeman was quick to point out.
"We missed some easy shots that we didn't necessarily need to miss and that hurt us very much," she said. "I was pleased with some of the things we did, but we can't win games shooting the way we did tonight. We just have to go back to the drawing board and work a little harder."
Freeman can take heart in her team's unwillingness to fold when UB threatened to blow the game open in the second half.
Gardner converted a three-point play, followed by three-point baskets by Bell and Kim Coon that keyed a 12-3 run and gave the Bulls their biggest lead of the night at 44-34 with 9:50 to play.
But treys by Teakyta Barnes (15 points) and reserve guard Ernestine Austin sparked a Syracuse rally that cut the margin to 52-50 with 4:11 remaining.
"I don't think it was a letdown at that point," Gardner said. "But it was a smack in the face that made us realize we had better get our game together if we are going to pull this off."
"We just made too many mistakes when we had a chance to put them away," Bell said. "But we didn't want to lose this game. We wanted to take a win home for Christmas."
UB responded as a basket by LaToya Crumpton, a trey by Megan McCray and two free throws by Bell gave the Bulls a 59-50 cushion with 2:50 to play.
SU never got closer than six the rest of the way.
"Any time you can beat a Big East team that has Connecticut and Notre Dame in their league, is big plus," Buscaglia said. "I really think we need games like this, we need to play teams like North Carolina. We're trying to find a difference. We want to find out what is going to make a difference in that (Mid-Continent Conference) tournament. These games will help us do that."
The Bulls will have another long layoff before visiting Mid-American Conference member and NCAA Tournament participant Marshall one week from today.