Originally published on April 1, 2005
The shot swished in. The trophy was hoisted high. The nets came down.
South Carolina's basketball season, equal parts frustration and fun during the past six months, ended Thursday night with a highlight rarely seen in the program's tortured history. Tarence Kinsey's 3-pointer with 0.9 seconds left, which came moments after Saint Joseph's had knotted the score with a clutch shot, gave the Gamecocks a 60-57 win and the National Invitation Tournament championship.
After the game, senior Carlos Powell was named the tournament's MVP.
USC (20-13) had not won a postseason championship since the 1971 ACC Tournament, and this Gamecock team gave little indication it would end that dry spell when it dropped five out of its final six games to land in the NIT rather than the NCAA Tournament.
Even Thursday night, USC shot 37 percent and made 5-of-15 3-pointers. But before 11,555 fans at Madison Square Garden, Kinsey erased a season's worth of doubt with a 22-foot jumper that slid cleanly through the basket.
"I had a little confidence," Kinsey said. "Even if I didn't make it, we would have gone to overtime. I prayed it was going in."
Kinsey made only one other field goal in the game and finished with seven points. But he might as well have scored 50.
"Championships are like dollar bills," said USC coach Dave Odom, who led Wake Forest to an NIT title in 2000. "You can never have enough of them."
The same could be said for clutch shots. This game saw several.
The Gamecocks, after trailing by as many as six points in the second half, took a 56-51 lead when Kinsey made two free throws with 27.4 seconds remaining.
The Hawks had two big shots left in them. The first came from Chet Stachitas, who hit a 3-pointer with 20.5 seconds to go, leaving USC up 56-54.
After Rocky Trice made one of two free throws for USC, struggling St. Joe's star Pat Carroll broke open on the left side, squared his shoulders and launched a 3-pointer that tied the score at 57 with 7.5 seconds left.
It was a rare highlight for the Hawks senior, who made more 3-pointers than any Division I player this season. But on this night, with Kinsey hounding him defensively, Carroll made 5 of 17 shots -2 of 13 from 3-point-range - to score 15 points.
After Carroll regained his swagger, Kinsey squashed it.
"A kid that struggled (Carroll) hit an impossible, unbelievable shot," St. Joe's coach Phil Martelli said. "And a team that doesn't make 3s made a 3."
The Gamecocks would not have been close enough for Kinsey's shot to matter without Powell's team-best 16 points.
Playing the final game of his USC career, Powell made 6 of 16 shots in the physical, defensive struggle. But he had his moments.
Powell scored eight points during a three-minute span in the first half when USC built a 24-18 lead. His driving layin with 43.2 seconds left in the game gave USC a 54-51 lead.
After Kinsey's shot made USC a champion, Powell and his fellow seniors raised the NIT trophy before he received some hardware of his own: the NIT Most Valuable Player award.
"It's been such a blessing to play college basketball and win a championship," Powell said.
Plenty of credit also must go to USC's defensive effort. St. Joe's (24-12) shot 37.3 percent from the field and made 9 of 28 3-pointers (32.1 percent).
But when Carroll's late shot tied the score, at least one USC player feared the worst because close losses, mostly away from the Colonial Center, dotted the Gamecocks' record this season.
"When Pat Carroll shot the ball, I knew it was going in," Wallace said. "That's just how it's been against us. But to see us come back and make a shot, finally, it was great for us."
Powell wants Thursday's dramatic finish to be just a start. As he dressed in the locker room, after removing his USC uniform for the final time, he talked of the bigger things that must come from this win.
"You've got to crawl before you walk, basically," Powell said. "We're standing up now."
Standing tall, even.
"I am happy for our university," Odom said. "I'm happy for the state. I'm happy for our players, and I'm happy for the families."
After so many tough, painful moments this season, those words of happiness were a long time coming.