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March 29, 2002

NEW YORK (AP) — As Dajuan Wagner came out of what could be his last game in college, he clasped hands and bumped chests with his teammates. Fans cheered and chanted “One more year!”

Tournament MVP Dajuan Wagner hoists the NIT championship trophy after Memphis’ win.

After the game, it became a question: One more year?

Wagner, Memphis’ star freshman and a possible lottery pick in the NBA draft, answered that question the way he has all week. “I don’t worry about that,” Wagner said.

Wagner said he was still enjoying the Tigers’ NIT title, which they earned with a a 72-62 victory over South Carolina on Thursday night. Earl Barron scored a career-high 25 points, and Wagner had 16 and was selected the tournament MVP.

Temple beat Syracuse 65-54 in the third-place game.

Tigers coach John Calipari thinks Wagner could be one of the first 13 players taken if he leaves this year and one of the first two players taken if he leaves next year.

“Oh yeah, he’ll be a lottery pick,” Calipari said. “If he decides to leave, I’m going to be happy for him. But if he does decide to come back, I’m going to be happy for us at Memphis … We’re going to try and win that other championship.”

When Calipari took Wagner out of the game with 47.3 seconds left, the blue-and-white-clad contingent of fans behind the Memphis bench stood and chanted “One more year! One more year!” then did it again when the 19-year-old star finished an interview at courtside.

For Calipari, the championship accomplished something he wanted to get out of the way at this time last season. The Tigers lost in the NIT semifinals last year, and Calipari was hoping they would make the NCAA Tournament this year. But the Tigers lost five of their last seven, including a first-round loss to Houston in the Conference USA tournament. Calipari said earlier this week he felt snubbed by the NCAA Tournament. Before Tuesday’s semifinals, he said advancing would be “validation.”

“They had a coach that vented all week,” Calipari said. “And next week, I’m really going to vent.” First-year South Carolina coach Dave Odom was bidding for his second NIT title in three years. He won with Wake Forest in 2000. Rolando Howell had 20 points and 15 rebounds for the Gamecocks, who shot just 8-of-18 from the free-throw line.

The Gamecocks (22-15) stayed close in the first half, but didn’t score in the second until Aaron Lucas sank a free throw with 15:50 to play. Lucas scored South Carolina’s first field goal of the half with 13:25 left. But by then, Memphis (27-9) was running away with it. “I think pure and simple, we lost to a better basketball team tonight,” Odom said. “I’m proud of them at the way we played tonight.” He said he was surprised at Barron’s first half. Barron, who played last summer in China for the United States in the World University Games, was perfect in the first half. He tied his season best by halftime with 19 points on 9-of-9 shooting. He also made the only free throw he took. “Earl Barron went crazy,” Calipari said. “Absolutely crazy.” Wagner closed out the half by making a 3-pointer with 1.1 seconds left to give Memphis a 35-29 lead. He had seven points in the half.