KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP)—Memphis forward Rodney Carey had one of the best games of his career Friday.
But coach John Calipari said it was not even the sophomore forward’s best effort this week.
Carney hit six 3-pointers and scored 26 points, both career highs, and added 10 rebounds to help Memphis beat South Carolina 59-43 in the first round, giving the Tigers their first NCAA tournament win since 1995.
His six 3s were one more than the Tigers’ previous NCAA tournament record, set by Penny Hardaway against Georgia Tech in 1992 and matched by Mingo Johnson against Arkansas in 1995.
Next up is Oklahoma State on Sunday.
“He was like Michael Jordan in practice this week,” Calipari said. “I can hear the guys laughing, but he was. He was stopping practice while we were saying, ‘Oh, my goodness.’ Believe me, he played better in practice than he did today.”
His performance in the game was enough to get fans chanting his name.
“I had never experienced that,” he said. “I wasn’t supposed to laugh because I was on national TV, but I heard it in the background. It was a really good feeling.”
Anthony Rice added three 3s and 12 points for the Tigers (22-7), seeded seventh in the East Rutherford Regional. Memphis reached the third round in 1995 but was eliminated in the first round in 1996 and 2003.
“Did you know that?” Calipari asked Carney and guard Antonio Burks in the postgame news conference. “I didn’t either. This is 2004. This is where we live now.”
Tenth-seeded South Carolina (23-11) has not won an NCAA tournament game since 1973, having lost first-round games in 1974, 1989, 1997 and 1998.
Memphis has beaten South Carolina eight straight times, including the 2002 NIT title game in their last previous meeting.
Three-point shooting and rebounding made the difference Friday. The Tigers were 9-for-27 from long range—to South Carolina’s 2-for-13—and outrebounded the Gamecocks 37-25.
“We knew they could shoot the ball,” Gamecocks guard Josh Gonner said. “If you give anybody open looks, they’re going to knock down the shot.”
South Carolina shot just 35 percent (15-for-42) from the field and went without a field goal over a stretch that covered more than one-fourth of the game.
“The story of the game was that we were inept offensively,” coach Dave Odom said. “We had opportunities in transition that we didn’t complete, and when you don’t take advantage of the opportunities you earn, it becomes difficult.”
The Gamecocks, who had averaged 70.9 points, didn’t have a scorer reach double figures until just over six minutes remained in the game, when Carlos Powell hit a layup that gave him 11 points.
He didn’t score after that, but was still the Gamecocks’ only double-digit scorer.
Mike Boynton, who came in averaging 10.2 points for South Carolina, was held scoreless on 0-for-2 shooting in his final game. He took only one shot in each half, both from 3-point range.
“It didn’t matter,” Gonner said. “We’ve won games when he doesn’t score. We have other players. We just didn’t do it.”
Carney was 4-for-6 from long range and scored 16 points in the first half, his fourth 3 putting Memphis up 30-18 at the break.
The first three came in a 13-2 run that gave the Tigers a 27-15 lead with six minutes left in the half. Memphis went scoreless for nearly 5 1/2 minutes after that before Carney’s next 3.
The Gamecocks scored only five points—three of those on free throws— between the midpoint of the first half and the break.
They went almost 11 minutes without a field goal between Tre Kelley’s layup with 9:40 to go in the first half and Tarence Kinsey’s jumper with 18:49 left in the game. South Carolina also went scoreless for the last 3:56.
“You can only play defense for so long before something has to feed it— usually offense,” Odom said. “We never got the jolt of energy from our offense.”
South Carolina got within 10 only once after the break, when Kelley hit two free throws with 12:32 left to make it 38-28.