It was the same old tune for Charlotte basketball Thursday night at homestanding Texas-El Paso.
While the club was tenacious, sticking around despite trailing handily for a good chunk of the night, the 49ers couldn’t catch a break late, watching a furious comeback come up just short in a 73-68 loss at Don Haskins Arena.
The loss dropped Charlotte to 10-14 on the season, losing yet another close road game to a Conference USA in falling to to 1-5. Mike Thorne, off last year’s 18-point, double-double effort, led Charlotte again Thursday with 16 points and a game-high 13 boards.
“The last two games, we’ve had too many turnovers,” Charlotte interim coach Ryan Odom said. “But, we’ll get there.”
C.J. Cooper, who hit a running floater from the right baseline to put UTEP up six late, led the Miners to their first-ever win over Charlotte in four tries 15 points.
UTEP (17-7, 9-3 C-USA) scored the first seven points of the game and Cooper’s 3-pointer made it 10-2 just 21/2 minutes in. UTEP led 34-27 at the break.
“We talked about how exceptional C.J. Cooper was tonight,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said.
“The quality of shots he took and made,” Odom said. “Give credit to them, they knocked down free throws down the stretchid.
“We had some shots at the rim that just didn‘t go down.”
With point guard Pierria Henry attempting to sit out with a sore back, the 49ers got off to the worst of all road starts, getting down a quick seven points less than two minutes into the contest. After a quick timeout, Charolotte two-guard Terence Williams turned aggressive, penetrating for four straight buckets and a dish to cutting big Bernard Sullivan for a flying one-handed dunk to close within 17-12.
“They jumped on us there in the beginning,” Williams said. “We knew what we was doing wrong, and we just talked about it. And me, I was just trying to be aggressive.”
The Niners got as close as 19-15 after sophomore Ivan Benkovic’s 3-pointer at the 10:58 mark. But UTEP 6-foot-8 leading scorer Vince Hunter scored six points over the final nine minutes as the Miners boosted their lead to as much as 11.
Henry finished with seven points in 22 minutes in the loss.