CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Fourth-seeded South Carolina (7-7-5) fell to fifth-seeded Tulsa (10-5-3) 3-1 in the Conference USA Tournament quarterfinals on Wednesday afternoon at Transamerica Field. Senior forward J.P. Rafferty scored for the Gamecocks in the eighth minute.
“This is a disappointing loss. I feel badly for our seniors; they fought hard all year. The first part of the game, we played quite well,” South Carolina head coach Mark Berson stated. “The own goal took a lot out of us. We kept fighting though; they never quit. Credit Tulsa, they are a good team and took advantage of a few opportunities and that was the difference in the game.”
Despite being outshot in the first half, the Golden Hurricane finished the match with a 15-13 shot advantage. Nine Tulsa shots were on frame. The Gamecocks won the corner kick battle, holding a 9-7 edge.
Eight Gamecocks registered shots in the match, with junior defender Mahamoudou Kaba leading the way with three. Junior forward Akeil Barrett scored and paced Tulsa with five shots, including four on goal. Junior midfielder Abe Matamoros scored the game-winner for the Golden Hurricane.
Each keeper recorded three saves between the posts for their respective teams.
South Carolina looked to strike from the opening whistle. A shot from sophomore midfielder Jeffrey Torda in the third minute was deflected to give the Gamecocks an early corner kick opportunity. Freshman midfielder Kurtis Turner sent the corner in from the far side. Kaba found the bouncing ball on the play and looked for the net, but the shot went just over the cross bar.
In the seventh minute, Tulsa was on the attack. Sophomore forward Cristian Mata swung around a Gamecock defender and took a shot to the far post. Gamecock freshman netminder Marco Velez watched as it went harmlessly wide of the post.
South Carolina found the early goal they were looking for shortly after the Tulsa attack. Rafferty was on the other end of a cross from Turner. The captain sent a header towards the upper far post for the 1-0 edge.
Barrett pulled Velez out of goal at the midpoint of the first half and had a look at an open net, but couldn’t get the angle he wanted thanks to defensive play by Kaba and junior defender Braeden Troyer.
With the lead, the Gamecock focus turned to lockdown defense. Seemingly every Golden Hurricane chance was thwarted by a swarming South Carolina defense.
In the final three minutes before the half, South Carolina had three corner kick chances. On the first one, sophomore midfielder Ryan Arambula, who saw his first action in nearly a month due to injury, nearly connected with his trusted set-piece partner. Kaba’s header sailed wide right through.
With just seconds left before the break, Barrett sent a shot towards goal. The ball went straight to Velez and Kaba cleared it to end the half with a 1-0 lead.
Just three minutes into the second half, Tulsa pulled even. A dangerous ball in the box bounced awkwardly, and the Gamecocks surrendered the own goal to make the score 1-1.
Junior defender Byron Knowles-Ramirez switched field less than six minutes later and Matamoros sent a rocket across the box from the far side for a 2-1 Tulsa lead.
Freshman forward Eli Dent drove down the near side in the 73rd minute and sent a ball into the box looking for junior forward Hunter Wyer. McGuire was there to haul in the ball and thwart the chance.
After corralling a stolen ball just minutes later, Wyer fired a long shot to tie, but the attempt was off target.
Desperately looking for the equalizer, the Gamecocks fired six shots in the final 12 minutes. Two of the chances were on frame, but McGuire held his line to preserve the victory.
With less than two minutes to go and South Carolina playing up as they looked for the equalizer, Barrett added the insurance goal past a diving Velez. The Golden Hurricane played the final seconds out for the 3-1 win.