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Final Stats

March 23, 2006

CINCINNATI (AP) — Tre’ Kelley’s nine-point outburst early in the second half and go-ahead basket in the final minute led South Carolina to a 65-62 victory Thursday night over a Cincinnati team that had two starters declared ineligible just hours before its NIT quarterfinal game.

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.

A Cincinnati spokesman, citing an NCAA ruling, declined to say why seniors James White and Jihad Muhammad were declared ineligible.

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.

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 Bearcats led 37-33 in the second half when Kelley hit a short jumper and stole a pass under the Cincinnati basket and drove the length of the court for another hoop. He followed that with a 3-pointer and then scored on a putback after another turnover.

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.

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.

Huggins’ former assistant, Andy Kennedy, served as interim coach this season and is a candidate for the permanent job. He’s also believed to be a finalist in Mississippi’s coaching search. Cincinnati officials last week hired a consultant to help narrow their search.

Cincinnati fans chanted their support for Kennedy 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.”