South Carolina Rolls Past UM in NIT Final

The 2005/2006 season officially came to a close Thursday night for the Michigan Wolverines. An athletic and energetic South Carolina squad jumped on the Maize and Blue at the start and never let up. The Gamecocks went on to win their second consecutive NIT title, 76-64.

"We always talk about deserving things and the team that won tonight deserved to win," Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said. "I thought they played exceptional basketball from tap to buzzer. They got out of the blocks early, put us on our heels and we were fighting an uphill battle the whole way. That was not a good sign going against that team, especially with the way they played down the stretch of the season."

As Amaker indicated, the Gamecocks set the tone in the game very early. Their first two baskets came on lay-ups, and they would continue to punish the Wolverines with dribble penetration that led to easy baskets for the entire game. Michigan was down 10-2 at the 15:33 mark before they finally managed to put together back-to-back baskets for the first time to close the deficit to four.

South Carolina responded by continuing its basket assault, converting their next five field goals from point-blank range. Two of their three dunks as well as lay-up came courtesy of semifinal hero Renaldo Balkman. When the dust settled, the Gamecocks had pushed the score to 20-10.

Dave Odom's squad still held on to a ten-point advantage, (24-14), at the 8:33 mark when Michigan managed its first run of the night. Daniel Horton and Brent Petway started things off with a lay-up and dunk respectively, and Ronald Coleman capped things off with a three-pointer in transition to get the Wolverines within three, (24-21) with 6:06 to go. The Wolverines looked poised to stay in the game for good, but a physical altercation between Petway and Balkman was all South Carolina needed to get back on track.

On Michigan's next possession, Petway went up for a lay-up in the paint only to have Balkman swat it for one of his five blocks on the evening. When Balkman came down with the rebound he began to swing his elbows wildly, catching Petway in the mouth and drawing blood. The foul went uncalled and the Wolverines junior forward took matters into his own hands, shoving Balkman to the floor and getting whistled for an intentional foul.

The fracas fired up both teams, but it South Carolina that turned that emotion into production. They closed the half on a 13-6 run and went into the locker room with a 39-27 lead.

South Carolina continued its offensive onslaught after the intermission, this time attacking from deep. Three early three-pointers from Gamecock guard Tre Kelley helped them pushed their lead to 17 points, (47-30). Daniel Horton tried to strap his team on his back, nailing two triples of his own on his way to scoring eight of the Wolverines next ten points to cut the lead to 12, but they would never seriously threaten again. The Gamecocks built the lead to as many as eighteen before rolling on to the 76-64 victory.

"I thought the lead they were able to get on us early was the difference," Amaker said. "The balance they had in their scoring, we didn't do a good job guarding off the dribble and I thought the plays they were able to make against us were key moments, especially when they knocked it away from us and we turned it over. Those are those momentum plays, when they get dunks and offensive tip-in dunks. Even though it seemed very even on the stat sheet, that is where stats can be very misleading when you try to evaluate a game. It was a 20-point game at one point, but we scratched and clawed to get back into it, but they held strong and certainly earned this victory."

On the game Tarence Kinsey led three Gamecock players in double figures with 21 points, while Renaldo Balkman chipped in with 10 points, 12 rebounds, and five blocks. Daniel Horton paced the Wolverines with 18 points and four assists. For more on the contest, click the following links. Boxscore, Notes, Quotes, Photos.

With his last game as a Wolverine now in the books, Horton expressed disappointment in the way his team finished but confidence in what the future holds. "I am hurting, Horton said. "We lost in the championship game of a tournament that was very important to us. I think we played hard and left it all on the court. As far as it being our last game, we came up short, but I have always said, everything doesn't always go your way in life. We will handle this. We will bounce back as seniors and the team will bounce back as a program as well."

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