Scores

Final

South Carolina 65

(21-15, 6-10 SEC)

Cincinnati 62

(21-13, 8-8 Big East)

    6:00 PM ET, March 23, 2006

    Fifth Third Arena, Cincinnati, Ohio

    1 2 T
    SCAR 27 3865
    CIN 33 2962

    Top Performers

    South Carolina: B. Wallace 13 Pts, 12 Reb, 2 Ast, 1 Stl, 4 Blk

    Cincinnati: E. Hicks 22 Pts, 8 Reb, 2 Ast, 1 Stl, 3 Blk

    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."

    Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press

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    Team Stat Comparison

     
    SCAR
    CIN
    Points 65 62
    FG Made-Attempted 26-59 (.441) 23-56 (.411)
    3P Made-Attempted 5-20 (.250) 7-19 (.368)
    FT Made-Attempted 8-11 (.727) 9-12 (.750)
    Fouls (Tech/Flagrant) 13 (0/0) 12 (0/0)
    Largest Lead 8 11

    Series

    DATEGAMELINKS
    » Mar 23, 2006 SCAR 65, @CIN 62Recap