Memphis, South Carolina advance to NIT championship game

Posted: Wednesday, March 27, 2002

NEW YORK -- With Dajuan Wagner on his team, John Calipari's job is easy.

With less than a minute to play Tuesday night and the Tigers facing their second straight NIT semifinal loss, Calipari told Wagner: ''Dajuan, make a play.''

Wagner, who finished with 32 points, complied. He drove the lane and fed Kelly Wise for a dunk with 18.6 seconds left to put Memphis in the finals with a 78-77 victory over Temple.

''That was great coaching strategy,'' Calipari said. ''Give him the ball and get out of his way.''

The Tigers (26-9) will play South Carolina, a 66-59 semifinal winner over Syracuse, in Thursday's title game.

Temple, out of timeouts, took three shots at the end, two by David Hawkins and one by Kevin Lyde, but couldn't put away a game in which it erased deficits of 12 and six points.

''I lost the game,'' said Lyde, who finished with 16 points. ''I'm supposed to make that shot. I didn't.''

Alex Wesby led the Owls with 25 points, Brian Polk had 15 and Hawkins 14.

With 10 minutes to play -- Temple reclaimed the lead for the first time since 11:56 remained in the first half -- with Polk sinking a 3-pointer that made it 55-54.

The Owls got out to a 61-56 lead, but Wagner converted a three-point play, and later made an NBA-range 3-pointer to give the Tigers a six-point margin of their own, at 71-65. The Owls quickly tied the game again at 71 with 3:09 left.

The Owls (18-15) were without injured top scorer Lynn Greer, who averaged 23.2 points for them. They had beaten crosstown rival Villanova in the quarterfinals without him, but the Owls -- their big men, especially -- appeared to miss the open space his long-distance shooting usually gave them.

In the absence of Greer, who has an ankle injury, Owls coach John Chaney wanted his shooters -- Hawkins and Polk -- to take more shots.

''I got (angry) at Polk,'' Chaney said. ''Once you get in the paint, they have a license to shoot.

''Sometimes I don't think he knows what he does. He doesn't take open shots when he gets them. He decides to drive when he's open. It really (upsets me.)''

Calipari noted the absence of Greer.

''When you take away a team's star player, it's like you're playing a team that's circling the wagons,'' he said.

Wagner's 32 points tied a career high, and he might only have one more game to set a new mark. He has not yet said if he'll declare for the NBA draft.

Last month, he publicly said he would stay at Memphis, only to have Calipari tell him to wait on his decision. For now, the two have one more game to win. Before knowing who he'd play in Thursday's final, someone asked Calipari about his strategy for the game.

He knew how to answer.

''When you have a good player, this isn't brain surgery,'' he said.

South Carolina 66, Syracuse 59

NEW YORK -- Aaron Lucas scored a season-high 20 points to lead South Carolina to a 66-59 victory over Syracuse in an NIT semifinal round game.

With a little more than a minute to play, Syracuse had an opportunity to close within two points when DeShaun Williams had his inbounds pass intercepted by Tony Kitchings.

Kitchings and Jamel Bradley each scored 13 points. Bradley, who holds the South Carolina school record for 3-pointers made, scored 12 of his points on 3-pointers.

The Gamecocks shot 50 percent from beyond the arc.

Conspicuously absent from the game's closing minutes was Syracuse's Preston Shumpert. The senior, who scored 11 first-half points on 3-for-10 shooting, took over in the second half.

Kueth Duany was the only other Syracuse player in double digits, finishing with 15 points and seven rebounds. No other Syracuse player had more than Williams' five points.

With 3:44 remaining, the Orangemen trailed 57-55, and Shumpert had scored more than half his team's points, with 28.

He finished with that total, going scoreless in the final 4:41.

The Orangemen missed a chance to become the first team to win the preseason and postseason NITs in the same year. They will play Temple for third place Thursday night.

For the Gamecocks, this is new ground. But first-year coach Dave Odom has been here before.

South Carolina has never been past the quarterfinal round of any national tournament. Odom, however, won the NIT two years ago, when he coached Wake Forest.

Syracuse was in control early. The Orangemen led by seven early in the first half, and took a 22-16 lead 5:33 before halftime when Duany made a 3-pointer. South Carolina tied it at 22, but watched Shumpert finish the half with five unanswered points.

Both Syracuse and South Carolina brought their home white uniforms, and it wasn't discovered until the teams took the floor for pregame warmups.

Syracuse was supposed to be wearing its road orange uniforms, and a student manager was dispatched to get them. Syracuse switched to road jerseys at the first media timeout and came out for the second half wearing its full road uniforms.

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