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March 24, 2005

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Associated Press Writer

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) – South Carolina senior Carlos Powell ran around the gym with his arms outstretched like a little kid.

He had good reason to celebrate. Powell and the Gamecocks (18-13) are headed back to New York and Madison Square Garden for the NIT semifinals for the second time in four years after a 69-66 victory over Georgetown on Thursday.

“I thought senior day was my last time playing here,” said Powell, whose 21 points led the Gamecocks. “There’s a lot of people who were wishing they were playing right now.”

Instead of ending the season losing five of its last six, South Carolina has turned things around and won three in a row.

But the Gamecocks have needed a couple of last-second wins to stay alive in the NIT, and Thursday night was no different.

The Hoyas (19-13) had two chances to tie the game late but Darrel Owens and Jeff Green each missed 3-pointers with less than 30 seconds remaining. Down by three with 2 seconds to go, a final Georgetown attempt from beyond midcourt was swatted out of bounds by Josh Gonner.

The Gamecocks held off a furious Georgetown rally in which Owens hit three 3-pointers in the final 2:55. His 4-point play cut South Carolina’s lead to 64-63 with 47.8 seconds to go.

But Tre Kelley, who had 12 points in the second half and finished with seven assists, hit two free throws to put the Gamecocks back on top 66-63 with 43.1 seconds to go.

Tarence Kinsey’s free throw with 19.8 seconds left put South Carolina ahead 67-63. Antoine Tisby grabbed the offensive rebound on the second attempt, and the Gamecocks killed more time off the clock.

Brandon Bowman added a final 3-pointer with 3 seconds remaining to cut the lead 69-66 but the Hoyas just ran out of time.

“We knew coming in they were going to be a tough team,” said Owens, who finished with a career-high 26 points and 10 rebounds. He was 7-for-12 from behind the arc.

South Carolina will face the winner of Saturday’s Texas-Christian-Maryland game in the semifinals in New York. Saint Joseph’s and Memphis will play in the other semifinal next Tuesday night.

It’s South Carolina’s second trip to Madison Square Garden under coach Dave Odom.

“Wow, what a game – what a three-game run,” Odom said. “We haven’t played a bad team yet.”

Kelley’s 3-pointer from the corner gave the Gamecocks a 49-47 advantage with 9:51 left, their first lead since they were ahead 11-10 midway through the first half. Kelley’s 3 came in the middle of a 17-2 run that put South Carolina ahead 57-49 with 4:56 to play. The Hoyas went 6:19 without a basket and had several turnovers during the game-changing run.

“I thought we played hard in the first half, we just didn’t play well,” Odom said.

Things changed in the second half, though. South Carolina scored the first six points to trail 34-32, but Georgetown went back up by eight with 15:16 to go.

Owens had 16 points in the first half on 4-of-6 shooting from 3-point range, and the Hoyas shot 50 percent (7-of-14) from behind the arc in the opening 20 minutes and led 34-26 at halftime.

Owens was averaging just 6.6 points a game, but he had a season-best 17 against Boston in the first round of the NIT.

The Gamecocks, led by Powell’s 12 points in the first half, trailed after shooting 58.8 percent from the field. Powell scored the Gamecocks’ first 10 points.

“It’s just a privilege for us to be able to go to Madison Square Garden and play, and then try to play for a championship also,” Powell said.