Guard Braxton Ogbueze scored 18 points and center Mike Thorne Jr. added 16, but it wasn’t enough to keep the Charlotte 49ers from a 78-70 setback against Florida International in a Conference USA game at Halton Arena Saturday.
It was the fourth loss in five games for the 49ers (9-12, 3-6). who couldn’t hang on to a first-half lead and fell short in a late rally.
Dennis Maven scored 24 points, including 4-for-5 behind the arc, to lead the visiting Panthers (10-10, 3-4). FIU broke a two-game losing streak with its second conference road win of the season.
The 49ers were in front for the first eight minutes, taking their biggest lead at 12-6 on center Mike Thorne Jr.’s layup. But the Panthers went on an 11-3 run to take their first lead at 17-15 on a fast break layup by Mavin with 11:19 left in the half.
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Charlotte briefly got the lead back at 20-17 on Ivan Benkovic’s 3-pointer, but Florida International grabbed control of the game with a 12-3 run. At the end of it, the Panthers were up 38-28 with three minutes to go before halftime and they took a 44-31 lead to the break.
Florida International hit 9-of-16 three-pointers in the first half and finished 13-of-21.
The Panthers extended their margin to a largest lead of 69-51 on a jumper by Mavin with 91/2 minutes to play before the 49ers mounted a comeback.
Charlotte ran off the next 13 points – highlighted by a layup by Henry and an inside basket by Willie Clayton to cut the lead to 69-64 before FIU scored again on an inside basket by Diaz with 3:40 left.
Former West Meck standout Terrence Williams brought the 49ers back within five with a jumper and one of two free throws for a 72-67 score with 2:33 left.
But that’s as close as Charlotte would get, as the 49ers missed their last five shots.
Dominique Williams scored 13 points and Adrian Diaz added 12 for FIU. Junior forward Willie Clayton pulled down 12 rebounds for Charlotte.
NOTES: The 49ers take a break from the C-USA schedule for their next game, against North Carolina A&T at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Halton Arena. The next three Conference USA games are on the road, at Old Dominion on Saturday, at Texas-El Paso on Feb. 12 and Texas-San Antonio on Feb. 14