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March 27, 2002

NEW YORK (AP) — One of the first things Dave Odom did when he finally settled in as South Carolina’s coach was get T-shirts made up for his players with the words “Finish it” on the back. He wanted to remind his players to close out games strong. Now they can put an exclamation point on their season, too.

By beating Syracuse 66-59 Tuesday night to advance to the NIT final, they put themselves in a position no South Carolina team has ever been in — poised to win a national tournament.

The Gamecocks will play Memphis, which beat Temple 78-77 in the first semifinal, in Thursday’s title game.

The big tournament will have to wait for another year. But the last time Odom coached a team to the NIT title — two years ago, with Wake Forest — his team made the NCAA tournament the following year. So it’s a start.

“This is uncharted waters for this crowd,” Odom said. “Nobody on this team has ever had a winning season. Nobody.”

South Carolina (22-14) already was playing in its first national tournament semifinals.

Aaron Lucas led the Gamecocks with a season-high 20 points.

With a little more than a minute to play, Syracuse trailed 63-59. DeShaun Williams forced a pass into the lane for Kueth Duany, but it was picked off by Rolando Howell. Lucas made only three of seven free throws down the stretch, but it was enough to hold off the Orangemen, who didn’t score in the game’s final 2:09.

Tony Kitchings and Jamel Bradley scored 13 points apiece for the Gamecocks. Bradley, who holds the South Carolina school record for 3-pointers made, scored 12 on 3s.

The Gamecocks shot 50 percent from beyond the arc.

Conspicuously absent from the game’s closing minutes was Syracuse’s Preston Shumpert. The senior, who scored 11 first-half points on 3-for-10 shooting, took over in the second half, but didn’t score in the game’s final 4:41.

“I guess we were trying to get some [ball] movement,” Shumpert said.

Shumpert, a senior, finished with 28 points.

At one point, Shumpert had 28 points, and the rest of his teammates had 27.

“He played great,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “There’s only so many times you can give him the ball. Our other two offensive guys have not played well.”

Kueth Duany was the only other Syracuse player in double figures, finishing with 15 points and seven rebounds. No other Syracuse player had more than Williams’ five points.

The Orangemen missed a chance to become the first team to win the preseason and postseason NITs in the same year. They will play Temple for third place on Thursday night.

Both Syracuse and South Carolina brought their home white uniforms, and it wasn’t discovered until the teams took the floor for pregame warmups.

Syracuse was supposed to be wearing its road orange uniforms, and a student manager was dispatched to get them. Syracuse switched to road jerseys at the first media timeout and came out for the second half wearing its full road uniforms.