The Gamecocks controlled the opening tip and took the early lead 2-0, but the Big Dance jitters set in shortly afterward and Memphis quickly shot their way to a 7-2 advantage before Michael Boynton was forced to call the first timeout of the game at the 16:23 mark, or take a five second violation. The Tigers opened 3-5 from the field in the first four minutes.
South Carolina did not whither, and the timeout proved to be timely giving the Cocks a chance to regroup and catch their breath. Terrance Kinsley was fouled coming out of the break and hit one of two - then the Gamecocks stepped-up their defense and held the Tigers scoreless before the first TV timeout at the 15:28 mark.
South Carolina closed the gap to 5-7 immediately after the break when Renaldo Balkman came off the bench and hit a jumper for 2, and then a 3 by Carlos Powell put the Gamecocks up 8-7.
Dave Odom's plan to go to his bench early was evident when Tre Kelly and John Chappell entered the game at the 14 minute mark.
Sean Banks put the Tigers back up by one 9-8 at the 13:13 mark and the pace of the battle was beginning to take shape.
SC countered with their own super frosh when Renaldo Balkman drew a foul and hit one of two to tie the game - followed by a steal - and then a travel by Balkman. Early indicators suggested the two best freshmen in the bracket were going to play heavily into the outcome of this game.
Memphis led South Carolina 11-9 at the second TV timeout coming with 11:30 remaining in the first half.
Terrance Kinsey showed no signs of the left knee injury coming out of the break to tie the game with a jumper from the key before Memphis answered with a three from the corner ... and then Kinsey answered again with a two before Carney answered quickly with a three that put Memphis up by four
It went back and forth with both teams playing excellent defense, but being countered with excellent offense. By this time in the game, moving too fast to document play by play, Brandon Wallace had entered the game and picked up a foul. Memphis had moved to a 21-15 lead on the strength of their three point shooting and Antonio Burks' 1000 point on a drive over Carlos Powell.
Rodney Carney was on fire when at the 7:30 mark he hit his third three of the game putting Memphis up 24-15. At this point in the game Memphis was 4 of 8 from behind the arch and had out-rebounded the Gamecocks 4-8.
Renaldo Balkman made a move to the basket but was out-of-control and tagged with a charge - a questionable call as he was splitting the defenders and neither appears to be set. The ball went back over to the Tigers at the third TV timeout in the half - 7:03 left in the period.
After the break, Balkman turned the ball over again and Carney hit another three. Memphis stretched the lead to 12. It was getting out of hand and time for the Gamecocks to close the gap before the half with only five minutes remaining on the first period ticker.
Kerbrell Brown missed the front end of a one and one - Coach Odom called a 30 second timeout. Brown hit his second attempt from the charity stripe and the Gamecocks came out pressing.
Tre Kelly once again entered the game and the tempo increased. After hitting five straight shots early in the game, SC missed their next nine. The positive was that Renaldo Balkman had taken Sean Banks out of the game by this point with outstanding defense - Balkman was winning the battle of the two super freshmen.
As the half wound down Memphis controlled the ball for more than 3 minutes before hitting a three pointer with 30 second remaining - another from Carney.
Memphis led at the half 30-18. It was the lowest first half point total for the Gamecocks this season. The Tigers had dominated on the boards and dominated from beyond the arch.
South Carolina did not score in the last 9:40 of the first half. They had eight turnovers in the first half which led to 13 Memphis points.
The second half started much the same way as the first ended - Carney hit a one-handed jumper from the lane to put Memphis up 32-18. Terrance Kinsey answered with a two and then Kerbrell Brown came back with another two to trim the lead to 10 with 18:00 minutes remaining in the game.
Then Carney hit another three - his 21st point of the game Memphis 35-22, Carney's fifth from long range tying his career high.
Josh Gonner made his presence felt for the first time with a two that pulled SC within 11, 35-24.
Gonner would continue to get more involved drawing a foul in the act and hitting both of his frees. The score 37-26 with 16 minutes left to go and the partisan Memphis crowd getting louder.
At the first TV timeout of the second half Memphis still led by 12, 38-26 and time was running out for the Gamecocks to make a move with less than sixteen minutes showing on the clock. Playing even-steven in the second half would not be good enough to cut it for the Cocks.
Two low court players had picked up their third fouls by this time for the Tigers ... Lopez and Banks each. Lopez had picked up his second, and then his quick third - Irwin picked up his fifth at the 14:30 mark. The Gamecocks needed to get the ball in the post. Irwin was a sacrifice by John Calipari.
Banks picked up his fourth with an over-the-back call trying to rebound against Gonner ... and again the Gamecocks needed to drive low and force Memphis into further foul trouble. This game was going to be won or lost for the Gamecocks on the foul line and in the paint.
Tre Kelly hit is first of two putting the Cocks back within 10 - they were hanging around. South Carolina's defense was picking up the pace. That's when Rice hit a big three from the corner and the momentum was temporarily halted for USC, but not yet back in favor of Memphis.
At the 12:40 mark Memphis led by eleven, 41-30. Sean Banks had only four - but Balkman had picked up his second foul guarding his opposite - then Banks countered by drawing a charge on Balkman, his quick third personal of the game.
Memphis was 8 of 19 from the three and that was the difference in the game to this point. The Tigers had also out-rebounded SC 24-17 with 11 minutes remaining.
Carney hit his sixth three of the game. Memphis went up 44-30 and heads began to drop on the guys wearing their road black uniforms. Memphis took advantage and picked up a turnover which led to a foul and Memphis' lead grew to 15.
Memphis was out-hustling the Gamecocks on the boards and things were beginning to look bleak for SC. 9:17 remaining in the game. Memphis called a timeout to discuss put-away strategy. This would be the last chance to make a run for the Gamecocks.
Tre Kelly and Brandon Wallace were both in the game with 7:30 remaining and the Gamecocks down by 14. Dave Odom was gaining experience for next season - and hoping to spark a comeback by the more emotional younger players.
Carney was 9-15 with six three-pointers, not to mention a blocked shot and eight rebounds. Michael Boynton was scoreless at this point. Gonner had four.
Memphis led 53-37 with seven minutes remaining.
Dave Odom was about to go 6-3 in first round NCAA Tournament games.
South Carolina had three true freshman on the court, Balkman, Kelly and Wallace, when Memphis went into the spread to burn clock. Josh Gonner was on the court as well making it four new players not on last year's SC squad - all four returning next season. Kerbrell Brown the lone senior.
Memphis led 55-40 with four minutes remaining in the contest.
Brandon Wallace hit a three and the Gamecocks pulled back within the twelve that they had trailed to begin the second half - Antonio Burks would answer to make the score 57-43 with 3:14 to go. This one was all but over except that Dave Odom was gaining valuable experience for his younger players.
Memphis was 9-24 from the arch, SC 2 of 10. South Carolina was even missing their layups.
These two teams met in 1973 in Houston, South Carolina lost that one by 14, 90-76. This one would be worse. South Carolina would end the game with a season low, their previous season low, 53, coming against Auburn in January.
The final, Memphis 59, South Carolina 43. And as in NYC two years ago, the most unexpected of players stepped up and won it for Memphis. South Carolina shut down the stars, but Robert Carney, on this day at least, became The Tigers' spotlight player ... he broke Anfaree Hardaway's record for threes (5) in tournament play for Memphis. The Tigers will give Oklahoma State all they can handle if not more.
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