The Charlotte 49ers started the season beautifully. They won six of their first seven games and established themselves as the greatest college basketball team in all of Puerto Rico.
Davidson started slowly. The Wildcats lost to teams they were supposed to, such as Duke, and teams they weren’t supposed to, such as Milwaukee.
Going into their annual matchup Wednesday the 49ers were 6-1 and the Wildcats 2-5.
So this wasn’t supposed to happen.
Davidson upset Charlotte 87-78 in overtime. Davidson upset Charlotte on Charlotte’s campus, in Halton Arena, where it had never won.
It was as if the teams were playing different games.
The Wildcats shot 28 three-pointers, the 49ers 16.
The Wildcats shot 50.7 percent from the field, the 49ers 41.7 percent.
Charlotte grabbed 42 rebounds, Davidson had 30. Charlotte grabbed 17 offensive rebounds, Davidson had 7.
The 49ers shot 36 free throws, the Wildcats 15. Charlotte made 10 more free throws than Davidson attempted.
One quality the teams shared: They lacked one of their best players and leaders. Out with injuries were Charlotte point guard Pierria Henry and Davidson forward De’Mon Brooks.
The teams might have played different games. But the Wildcats were playing theirs better. They led by nine with 10:46 remaining.
Davidson repeatedly beat the taller 49ers with a series of backdoor cuts and layups. The 49ers never really stopped Davidson’s inside game, particularly the backdoor shots.
But the 49ers raced back and their fans became loud and the gym became frenzied and the 49ers scored 10 straight to take the lead.
Charlotte had a chance to win at the end of regulation. Ben Cherry drove to the hoop but, with three seconds remaining, missed the shot. Willie Clayton grabbed the rebound but couldn’t get the follow to fall.
Three players did. As regulation ended, Clayton, Cherry and Davidson’s Tyler Kalinoski went hard to the court. They were down several seconds after regulation ended.
In overtime Jordan Barham, a 6-4 Davidson sophomore guard and Davidson’s best leaper, went high for an offensive rebound, hit a basket and drew a foul. The Wildcats led 77-74.
Somebody had to go high. By now, two of Davidson’s big men had fouled out. So the Wildcats went with a lineup of five guards, the tallest of them 6-7.
The 49ers missed two field goal attempts. Davidson’s Tom Droney found Kalinoski with a slick pass inside for a layup.
Charlotte turned the ball over and Barham went to the hoop for another basket and the lead was seven.
And that was it. Davidson wins the Hornets Nest Trophy.
The trophy looks like a brain, and not a smart one. It looks like something you’d put in your kids’ room if they misbehaved.
Davidson radio play-by-play man John Kilgo joked that the loser should have to keep the trophy for a year instead of the winner.
So: Trophy bad, rivalry good. Halton Arena wasn’t full but fans filled it with noise.
After the game, the Wildcats walked down a long hallway and outside to their bus. They left through the back door.