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Gamecocks edge past short-handed Cincy in NIT semis

CINCINNATI (AP) -- South Carolina left to defend its NIT
championship title while Cincinnati headed into the offseason with
a new coach.

Tre' Kelley's 10-point outburst early in the second half and
go-ahead basket in the final minute led the Gamecocks to a 65-62
victory Thursday night over a Cincinnati team that had two starters
declared ineligible just hours before its quarterfinal game.

"Those people who have seen us play, there's no way you could
be surprised it was a close game," said South Carolina coach Dave
Odom. "All our games are like that."

Kelley finished with 21 points and Tarence Kinsey had 18 for
South Carolina (21-15), which will play Louisville in Tuesday
night's semifinals at Madison Square Garden in New York. Old
Dominion plays Michigan in the other semifinal.

The Gamecocks are trying to become the first team to win
consecutive NIT championships since St. John's in 1943 and 1944.

Eric Hicks led the short-handed Bearcats (21-13) with 22 points.
Athletic director Mike Thomas said after the game that former
Bearcats assistant Mick Cronin would leave Murray State to become
head coach at Cincinnati. Mississippi also announced it hired
Cincinnati's interim coach, Andy Kennedy, to take over its program.

A Cincinnati spokesman, citing an NCAA ruling, declined to say
why seniors James White and Jihad Muhammad were declared
ineligible. Some players hinted at academic problems.

White, a 6-foot-7 swing player from Washington, was the
Bearcats' leading scorer at 16 points a game. Muhammad, a 5-11
guard from Plainfield, N.J., averaged 11 points and was
Cincinnati's top 3-point shooting threat.

"They let us down. They let the team down, they let us down,"
Cincinnati point guard Devon Downey said. "There is no way that
team beats us with James and Jihad."

Chadd Moore and Ronald Allen started in place of Muhammad and
White. Moore, whose chronic back problems forced him to quit the
team for a while last year, received lower back massages from a
trainer during timeouts late in the game. He finished with 11
points.

The dismissals of White and Muhammad left Cincinnati with just
nine players in uniform. That included Branden Miller, a preseason
walk-on, and Connor Barwin, a freshman tight end on the school's
football team who volunteered to help two months ago when the
Bearcats didn't have enough healthy players to scrimmage.

The Bearcats led 34-29 in the second half when Kelley hit two
free throws to cut the lead to three. After a Downey 3-pointer,
Kelley converted a layup, got a steal and scored again to get the
Gamecocks within two. Kelley completed his outburst with a jumper
and a tip-in to give South Carolina a 39-37 lead.

"I was able to get a couple of steps on my defender a couple of
times, and I tried to take advantage of that," Kelley said.

Cincinnati tied it three times after that, the last time at 59
with 2:22 to go on a basket by Hicks. But that was the last touch
for Hicks.

A layup by Kelley with 48 seconds left put South Carolina ahead
for good.

South Carolina's Renaldo Balkman left the game in the second
half after taking an elbow to the nose.

"Both teams were short of bodies -- not a lot of depth, but with
a lot of heart," Odom said.

It was finally the end of the road for Cincinnati, which lost
its coach shortly before the start of the season and was plagued by
injuries.

The ruling on White and Muhammad was announced less than two
hours before the game and shortly before a televised news
conference in which former Bearcats coach Bob Huggins was
introduced as Kansas State's new coach.

Kennedy, Huggins' former assistant, served as interim coach
during Cincinnati's hard-luck season. Fans chanted their support
for him and gave him three standing ovations -- when he came onto
the court before the start of each half, and when two fans who
participated in a free-throw shooting contest during a timeout held
up signs saying, "Hire Andy."

"I think this is the end of the chapter for Bob Huggins
basketball," Kennedy said after the game. "This kind of puts
closure ... and it's kind of ironic it happens today -- he gets a
job and we're done. I think it closes the chapter."