RUSTON, La. Ten minutes into Charlotte’s Conference USA contest Thursday night, 49ers coach Alan Major had to feel pretty good.
There were still 30 minutes remaining, though.
Charlotte built as much as an eight-point lead early before watching it slowly evaporate as Louisiana Tech took a 80-60 win in front of a crowd of 3,250 at the Thomas Assembly.
Charlotte (12-6, 3-2) built as much as a 14-6 advantage at the 15-minute, 9-second mark of the first half before the Bulldogs (16-4, 4-1) battled back, with turnovers playing the major difference. Louisiana Tech had 14 turnovers lead to 15 points for the 49ers, but Charlotte gave the ball up 24 times, leading to 26 points for the Bulldogs. Louisiana Tech totaled 12 steals.
“You can’t give the ball up that many times against a good team like Louisiana Tech and expect to come away with the win,” Major said. “We got off to a great start and kept them in front of us and forced them to shoot jumpers. But then that pressure defense of theirs started forcing turnovers. It was really a combination of some of them being forced and some of them being mental mistakes by us because of a lack of patience.”
Louisiana Tech took what appeared to be a 40-31 lead into the locker room at halftime, but the teams were called back onto the court six or seven minutes into intermission.
After reviewing video, officials called a second flagrant foul on Louisiana Tech’s Michael Kyser, who was ejected. Ben Cherry made a pair of free throws as the Bulldogs’ halftime advantage shrank to 40-33.
Charlotte cut the Louisiana Tech lead to five points on a Pierra Henry layup to open the second half, but the Bulldogs countered with a couple of quick baskets and never looked back, building a double-digit advantage for the final 15:26.
“That was strange … I’ve never seen anything like that,” Major said of the lengthy break before being called back out onto the court during halftime. “We hoped to built on that, but after they hit those quick couple of baskets they just seemed to pull away.
“We’re still learning, and the big lesson tonight was we have to play a full 40 minutes.”
Henry led Charlotte with 20 points. Shawn Lester added 10 and Willie Clayton chipped in with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Alex Hamilton led Louisiana Tech with 22 points. Jaron Johnson and Chris Anderson added 12 apiece.
The 49ers next will travel to Houston to take on Rice at 8 p.m. Saturday.
“We just have to learn from this one and put it behind us,” Major said. “We have to learn to play the whole game, from start to finish.”
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