The Charlotte 49ers began to scrub away the memories of Tallahassee on Saturday, beating USC Upstate 81-76 before a crowd of 4,042 in Halton Arena.
But four days after suffering one of the most lopsided losses in program history – a 106-62 defeat at Florida State – the 49ers (8-3) nearly underwent an epic collapse against a USC Upstate team that already had victories this season against South Carolina and Virginia Tech.
Leading by 22 points at halftime, thanks mostly to the long-range shooting of senior guard Ben Cherry (20 points), Charlotte held off the Spartans (6-6), who took a late lead but couldn’t hold it as Charlotte sealed it with a barrage of free throws down the stretch.
“We’re still looking to be a 40-minute team,” said 49ers coach Alan Major. “I know we’re not and there isn't anyone who is in college basketball. But we’re all trying to be.”
The 49ers, who entered the game making 34 percent of their 3-pointers, made 11-of-25 (44 percent) against the Spartans. Cherry, a transfer from Tulane who played at Myers Park High, was 6-for-8, including 4-of-5 in the first half.
“Once I hit the first one, my teammates really started looking for me,” said Cherry, whose previous high was 17 points for the Green Wave last season against Southern Mississippi. “They did a good job of finding me so I was really just knocking down open looks.”
Cherry made three consecutive 3s during one first-half stretch as the 49ers bolted to a 48-26 halftime lead.
“He’s a great catch and shooter,” Upstate coach Eddie Payne said of Cherry. “You can’t give him any space at all, but we did, especially in the first half.”
The Spartans were a different team in the second half. They used runs of 13-2 and 13-3 to cut into Charlotte’s lead, and went ahead 71-69 on a 3-pointer by Torrey Craig (26 points) with 2 minutes, 46 seconds left.
That would be Upstate’s only lead. Charlotte’s Terrence Williams answered with a 3-pointer and the 49ers staved off the Spartans by making their final nine free throws.
“We let them get a couple of easy baskets and that triggered their confidence,” Major said of the Upstate rally. “We put the plate in front of them and let them get a little something to eat. Then they got the fork and knife and really went after it.”
Guards Shawn Lester and Denzel Ingram and forward Willie Clayton all scored 13 points for Charlotte. Point guard Pierria Henry and Clayton, who were both ejected from the Seminoles game, didn’t start against Upstate as punishment.
And two days after rallying from eight points down in the second half in a program-defining victory against South Carolina, Upstate threw a scare into Charlotte.
“Our program has advanced beyond the point where we say ‘good try’ and take some solace from the fact that we made a heck of a comeback,” said Upstate coach Eddie Payne, whose team has also beaten Virginia Tech and had a double-digit lead against Tennessee before losing. “Well, yes, it was a heck of a comeback, but we still lost the game.”
Scott: 704-358-5889; Twitter: @davidscott14
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