- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 30, 2005

NEW YORK — Maryland’s final act of the season was a Broadway flop.

South Carolina won the loose balls, cleaned up on the glass and outhustled the Terrapins in a 75-67 win in the NIT semifinals last night at Madison Square Garden. A season of frustration closed with an all-too-familiar script of falling behind big early and making a comeback bid, but ultimately never catching up.

“It’s pretty typical of our inconsistent year,” Terps coach Gary Williams said. “We had some good wins this year, but we had a lot more like this where we were inconsistent.”

The Gamecocks built a 14-point first-half lead as they took advantage of the Terps’ shoddy ballhandling, porous defense and hapless offense. South Carolina built its lead to 18 after intermission and was never really threatened after that.

“I was really pleased the way we rebounded in the first half,” said South Carolina coach Dave Odom, whose team had 20 offensive rebounds in the game. “We attacked the right way as a team and built a good lead. It mustered up to 14 pretty fast.”

South Carolina (18-13) will meet Saint Joseph’s, a 70-58 winner over Memphis, for the NIT championship tomorrow. The Terps (19-13), who failed to reach a 12th consecutive NCAA tournament, were also denied a ninth straight 20-win season.

South Carolina was led by Carlos Powell with 17 points and 12 rebounds, while Travis Garrison and Chris McCray each had 15 points to pace the Terps.

The Gamecocks took their biggest lead at 53-35 on Brandon Wallace’s transition layup with 17:08 left. Maryland managed to cut the margin to nine on a Mike Jones’ 3-pointer with 6:12 remaining. Despite several opportunities, the Terps could not get any closer until the final points put them within eight.

Nik Caner-Medley missed a 3-pointer from the left corner with 2:33 left. Powell got the rebound, was fouled and made both free throws to re-open the lead to 11 and put the Gamecocks firmly in charge. The Terps missed four shots to get within nine in the final minute.

Point guard Sterling Ledbetter struggled against South Carolina’s pressure defense as Maryland committed 21 turnovers. Ledbetter, the heir apparent to John Gilchrist next season, had six turnovers and only one assist.

Gilchrist sat out a fourth consecutive game because of a sprained ankle and wrist, although the severity of those injuries has been questioned. Gilchrist is expected to declare for the NBA Draft soon, and the Terps have used the NIT to adjust to playing without the 2004 ACC tournament MVP.

The Terps can only hope for more consistent and energized play next season as all their top players — except Gilchrist — are expected back.

The Gamecocks went on a 32-13 run to take a 41-29 lead at halftime. South Carolina took advantage of Ekene Ibekwe and Caner-Medley getting into early foul trouble and had a 23-17 lead in rebounds, including 10 on the offensive end. The Terps’ shoddy ballhandling was also a culprit as they had 10 turnovers and only five assists before the break.

Ledbetter look confused as South Carolina mixed a 2-3 zone, man-to-man defense and even some full-court pressure. The point guard had four turnovers and one assist in the half, while Maryland made only one of seven 3-pointers.

The Gamecocks erased a five-point Maryland lead with an 18-4 run in the middle of the first half to take a 27-18 lead. Powell tied the game at 14-14 on a follow shot after James Gist blocked his first attempt. South Carolina took its first lead at 18-16 on Antoine Tisby’s tip-in with 9:33 remaining.

The last time Maryland reached the NIT semifinals was in 1972 when it won the title when the Lefty Driesell-coached Terps had Tom McMillen, Len Elmore and Jim O’Brien. Maryland beat Niagara 100-69 for the championship. The Terps have been to the NIT three times since, most recently in 1990, and lost in the second round.

The last time Maryland did not post a 20-win season was 1995-96 when it had a 17-13 record and lost to Santa Clara in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

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