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March 29, 2005

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AP Sports Writer

NEW YORK – South Carolina wasn’t going to let Maryland pull this one out – no matter how many people were rooting for yet another comeback.

Carlos Powell scored 17 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, and the Gamecocks thwarted the sloppy Terrapins 75-67 Tuesday night to reach the NIT championship game.

“We just tried to pick it up in the second half,” Powell said. “We knew they were going to go on a run so we just tried to stay a lot more aggressive than them.”

The Gamecocks (19-13) crashed the boards all night, pulling down 20 offensive rebounds – 44 overall.

Now they are in the NIT final for the second time in four seasons and will face Saint Joseph’s for the title on Thursday night.

The Hawks (24-11) eliminated Memphis 70-58 in the opener of the doubleheader at Madison Square Garden.

That was good news for the Gamecocks, who lost the 2002 NIT championship game to Memphis and were knocked out of the NCAA tournament last year by the Tigers in the first round.

“Now that I don’t have to play them, I can say that’s who I was pulling for,” South Carolina coach Dave Odom said. “I wanted one more shot at them … that’s not true.

“Memphis is a great team with a great coach but Saint Joe’s is the one that’s been dealt to us and we’ll have our hands full with them.”

The Terrapins had made coming-from-behind a common occurrence in the NIT. In the first round, they trailed Oral Roberts by 13 in first half and by 16 in the second round to Davidson.

“We knew they were going to go on a run so we just tried to stay a lot more aggressive than them.”
Carlos Powell

Even in the quarterfinal victory over TCU, Maryland rallied from two second-half deficits to advance. But those games were on its home floor. The partisan New York crowd tried to make the Terps feel at home, but it wasn’t enough.

“They have made a lot of comebacks and we’ve allowed a lot of comebacks,” Odom said. “It did concern me, but hopefully that’s a sign that we’re past that.”

The Gamecocks were 62.5 percent from the foul line, but they made enough free throws down the stretch to hold off Maryland. South Carolina turned the ball over 13 times.

Josh Gonner scored 11 of his 12 points in the first half, when South Carolina turned an early five-point deficit into a 14-point lead.

Powell had only six points in the first half, but he surpassed his 16.4 average with a solid final 20 minutes.

South Carolina players clapped their way into this title game as their teammates paraded to the foul line during the final minute.

Travis Garrison, Chris McCray and Mike Jones each scored 15 points for Maryland, which had another of its long-running, positive streaks snapped.

The Terrapins (19-13) were looking for their ninth straight 20-win season, but fell a game short.

Maryland missed the NCAA tournament this season after making 11 straight trips, and was trying to win a consolation prize in the NIT three years after winning the national championship.

“The program is not going away, it’s just we didn’t have as good of a year as we wanted to have,” Maryland coach Gary Williams said. “I don’t think we’re going anywhere, I just think we have to work hard to get where we want to be next year.”

The Terps tried to make another of their signature comebacks in the second half, after trailing by as many as 18 points.

But careless ball-handling, hard passes that smacked off hands and sailed out of bounds, poor defensive rebounding and missed layups made a rally impossible.

South Carolina led 41-29 at the break and stretched that advantage to 53-35 when the Gamecocks scored consecutive layups 13 seconds apart less than 3 minutes into the second half.

Maryland guard Sterling Ledbetter had 11 turnovers in the first three games of the NIT, starting in place of the injured John Gilchrist, but he tied the team-high for the season with six against South Carolina.

The Terps finished with 21 turnovers, just two off a season-worst.

South Carolina’s good shooting in the first-half (43.2 percent) rubbed off on the team mascot, who drilled a halfcourt shot during halftime.

The Gamecocks trail the series 31-27 but improved to 8-1 over Maryland at neutral sites.

Notes:@ South Carolina shot at least 40 percent from the field for 19 straight games before the Southeastern Conference tournament. The Gamecocks got back on track in the first three games of the NIT, but finished at 37.5 percent against Maryland. … Williams went 14-12 against Odom when Odom was in the ACC at Wake Forest.