SYRACUSE, N.Y. - This waiting game is getting old for C. Vivian Stringer.
Trying for the third time to notch her 900th career victory, Stringer watched her Rutgers Scarlet Knights commit 13 turnovers in the second half Tuesday night as No. 21 Syracuse rallied for a 58-45 victory.
Kayla Alexander and Elashier Hall converted three-point plays to key a decisive second-half spurt that helped deny the Hall of Famer that signature milestone.
"It would be real nice to get it," Stringer said. "It's a burden. Can we get this over with? How long do we have to keep this thing going?"
Stringer, a Hall of Famer in her 42nd season as a head coach, is seeking to become just the fourth women's coach to reach 900 wins along with Pat Summitt, Jody Conradt and Sylvia Hatchell, who reached the mark on Feb. 7. Only three Division I men's coaches have reached 900 victories - Mike Krzyzewski, Bob Knight and Syracuse's Jim Boeheim, who reached the milestone in December in the Carrier Dome.
The Scarlet Knights have lost three straight since Stringer earned her 899th career victory against Cincinnati. They lost 60-57 at DePaul when Brittany Hrynko hit a 3-pointer with 10.2 seconds to break a tie, then played a spirited first half against No. 3 Connecticut on Saturday before suffering a 65-45 setback.
Stringer's next chance will come Saturday afternoon at St. John's, though this game seemed there for the taking after both teams struggled through an awful first half.
Stringer likes to play a slowdown game, and it couldn't have been any slower. The teams combined for 24 turnovers, missed 49 of 63 shots attempted, netted only six points off 24 offensive rebounds as neither team led by more than four points and Rutgers left the floor at the break with a 19-15 lead.
"I don't know whether we're tight," Stringer said. "I could see that we were anxious. It wasn't anything that Syracuse was doing, necessarily. We had a sloppy game, terrible sloppy. I don't know how to explain it. I don't know what it was."
Syracuse (22-3, 10-2 Big East), which has its best record in program history through 25 games, broke a three-game losing streak against Rutgers (14-11, 5-7) and upped its home record to 12-0.
"I want her (Stringer) to get it - she means a lot to women's basketball - but I want to win, too," Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman said.
Alexander, who has nine double-doubles and 28 for her career, the most of any active Big East player, got in early foul trouble and finished with seven points, eight rebounds and three blocks in 25 minutes. Rachel Coffey led the Orange with 17 points and freshman Brianna Butler had nine.
Monique Oliver paced the Scarlet Knights with 23 points and 16 rebounds.
Rutgers shot 25.9 percent (15 of 58) and committed 23 turnovers. Syracuse wasn't much better, shooting 26.6 percent (17 of 64) with 17 turnovers. But the Orange held onto the ball in the second half with only three turnovers, and Coffey went 3 for 3 from behind the arc to keep the Scarlet Knights at bay in the closing minutes.
"Tonight was big for us," Hillsman said. "We knew we had to be aggressive. We knew they were going to test our will. I challenged them. Our kids really gutted it out."
La'Shay Taft curled around a screen at the top of the arc and hit a 3-pointer to put the Orange up 27-25 with 12:36 left. After Betnijah Laney tied it for Rutgers at 27-all with a free throw, the Orange reeled off 11 straight points to take the biggest lead of the game as Alexander and Hall keyed the surge.
Six straight points from Oliver kept the Scarlet Knights close and a hook by Christa Evans moved them within 42-35 with 5:20 to play.
Off-target for most of the game from long range, Syracuse put the game away when Butler hit a 3 from the left corner and Coffey followed with two more 3-pointers to give the Orange a 53-40 lead at 2:55.
Syracuse started poorly, committing three turnovers on its first four possessions, and finished the opening half 1 of 12 from behind the arc. The Orange consistently went for the long ball after the 6-foot-4 Alexander picked up her second foul in the first 5 minutes of play and was relegated to the bench.
Rutgers led at halftime behind 12 points from the 6-2 Oliver, eight coming with Alexander watching after not even attempting a shot. Shakeya Leary played 12 minutes in place of Alexander, and though she missed all six shots she attempted, Leary snared six rebounds and registered two blocks and two steals.
"I feel like we're on the right track," Alexander said. "We just have to keep doing what we're doing. We have too many threats on our team. Anyone can show up on any given day."
Rutgers is in danger of seeing its 10-year streak of NCAA tournament appearances end. The Scarlet Knights, with nine underclassmen on the roster, are having a rare down year.
"If it (Rutgers gets an at-large bid) happens, it happens," said Stringer, whose $1 million salary has come under scrutiny with one more year on her contract after this season. "If it doesn't, that's life."