SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman has brought the Orange women to the cusp of the elite since he took over eight years ago. They're just not quite there yet.
With a chance for a signature win on Thursday night, Syracuse made a flurry of 3-pointers against No. 3 Duke, but the Blue Devils weren't fazed by an early deficit and methodically came back for a convincing 86-53 victory.
It was the third straight loss for Syracuse (11-4, 0-2) and spoiled the Orange's first home game in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
"We're never going into a game thinking we can't win. We've got to find a way when we have a chance to play great teams to play hard, be competitive and win," Hillsman said. "Games like this are program-changing wins. We had a big opportunity tonight and we didn't take advantage of it. It's my responsibility. It's all on me."
Syracuse hit four 3-pointers in the first few minutes and gained a seven-point lead. Then the shots stopped falling, the Blue Devils kept attacking, and the game slipped away.
Outscored 43-34 in the first, the Orange caved in the second as Duke matched its first half while holding Syracuse to 19 points on 6-of-32 shooting. The Orange finished 8 of 38 from behind the arc as Brianna Butler finished 4 of 12 and La'Shay Taft 1 of 13.
"I don't feel overmatched. I think we have the talent," Hillsman said. "It's got to be about effort. I'm looking at the 3s we took and I thought they were good shots. They were open, and they were taken by the right two people."
Tricia Liston had 20 points and eight rebounds to lead six players in double figures for Duke (15-1, 2-0), which has beaten four ranked opponents this season- California, Purdue, Oklahoma, and Kentucky.
Elizabeth Williams added 14 points and 11 rebounds for Duke, whose only loss was to top-ranked UConn 83-61 in December. Alexis Jones had 13 points and seven assists for the Blue Devils. Williams blocked four shots, extending her streak of at least one block in 85 straight games.
Syracuse dropped out of the poll this week after consecutive losses to No. 23 Arizona State and North Carolina State, now ranked No. 20.
The Orange entered the game 7-0 this season in the Carrier Dome and seeking a signature win to vault them back into the national rankings. Syracuse made it clear it would try to win the game from the perimeter and started well as Butler made two and Rachel Coffey and Isabella Slim each had one.
Butler's second 3-pointer gave Syracuse a 19-12 lead less than 5 minutes in. But the Orange missed seven of their next eight from behind the arc and the Blue Devils capitalized with a 15-2 spurt to zoom to a lead they never relinquished.
Liston made a pair of 3s from the left side, Richa Jackson added a three-point play, and a shot off the glass by Oderah Chidom tied it at 21 at 12:45.
A reverse layup by Williams and a driving layup by Jones completed the Duke run and gave the Blue Devils a 27-21 lead midway through the period.
"We were getting a little impatient on offense and we had some silly turnovers," Liston said. "But once we started working the ball around and getting in a rhythm, we started having assist after assist, easy shot and easy baskets. At first it was slow, but once we started getting our stops it flowed into the offense. We were getting good looks."
Duke finished with 27 assists on its 38 baskets and outscored Syracuse 56-20 inside.
"We've got to get the ball inside-out," Williams said. "They're just higher-percentage shots. Working the ball around and getting into the paint is important to us. Coach just told me to slow down a little bit."
Brittney Sykes, who finished with eight points, rallied the Orange, converting a baseline drive and a layup to bring Syracuse within four with under 2 minutes to play in the opening half.
But Liston hit her fourth 3 and Jones followed with a shot off the glass in the final minute to send the Blue Devils into the locker room with a 43-34 lead.
Duke took command in the second with an 18-7 run keyed by a 3-pointer from Jones and Liston's three-point play.
Stephanie White, Lin Dunn and Carolyn Peck know what it takes to succeed in women's basketball. Their return to the college level should boost the SEC and is good for the game overall.