HOUSTON One week ago, Charlotte felt good about its spot atop Conference USA. This weekend the 49ers return home as a middle-of-the-pack team looking to pick up the pieces after a lackluster road trip.
A hot start quickly turned sour Saturday night, and a late comeback fell short as visiting Charlotte lost to Rice, 71-69, at Tudor Fieldhouse.
It is Charlotte’s second loss in three days. Thursday’s setback to 17-win Louisiana Tech may be easy to explain. Saturday’s defeat, however, came against a Rice team riding a 16-game C-USA losing streak.
Turnovers plagued the 49ers, especially during a seven-minute stretch in the first half and the first 10 minutes of the second half.
The 49ers (12-7, 3-3 C-USA) finally began to take care of the ball in the final eight minutes and got to within striking distance.
Shawn Lester’s 3-pointer got Charlotte within one point with 17 seconds to go. Rice’s Max Guercy made one free throw with 10 seconds remaining to set up a chance for Charlotte to force overtime or win.
Ben Cherry received the pass in the left corner and dribbled toward the baseline. His off-balance shot missed at the buzzer.
Lester led Charlotte with 18 points. Willie Clayton had 13 points and 11 rebounds but also committed eight of the team’s 18 turnovers. Pierria Henry had eight points, six assists and four steals.
Charlotte built a 19-10 lead in the first nine minutes, but followed that with a seven-minute stretch in which it missed three shots and committed eight turnovers.
Rice, meanwhile, made six 3-pointers to crawl back and take the lead. The Owls (6-13, 1-5) led 36-31 at halftime. They made six more threes in the second half and shot 50 percent from behind the arc.
The turnover problems continued in the second half with two in the first 30 seconds. The 49ers committed three more before finally scoring a field goal four minutes into the second half.
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