Charlotte’s recent struggles have left the 49ers hanging on by their nails to the 12th and final berth in next month’s Conference USA basketball tournament.
But Charlotte moved a step closer to clinching that tournament spot Saturday with a 71-43 victory over Southern Mississippi at Halton Arena.
Torin Dorn scored 11 points, and Keyshawn Woods came off the bench to add 10 for the 49ers (12-15, 5-9), who overcame a slow start to post their biggest margin of victory this season.
“Every game’s important, and our guys give their max effort in each game to try to win,” Charlotte interim coach Ryan Odom said. “We wanted to play well, because we want to be playing our best basketball come March.”
The 49ers now hold a 2 1/2-game lead over the Golden Eagles (7-19, 2-13) – who will not play in the C-USA tournament because of an ongoing NCAA investigation – and are 4 1/2 games up on Florida Atlantic (8-16, 1-12).
Charlotte can clinch the final spot in the conference tournament by winning one of its final four games – at North Texas on Thursday, at Rice on Feb. 28, or in home games against Western Kentucky (March 5) and Marshall (March 7).
“We’re just getting better,” said guard Pierria Henry, who had eight points and eight assists. “Coach has always told us, ‘It’s not about how we start; it’s not about our record; it’s about how we finish.’
“It’s always about getting momentum. It’s always the team that catches that rhythm at the end, that just keeps on rolling. Why not us?”
The 49ers – coming off an 83-82 overtime loss to league leading Louisiana Tech on Thursday – showed some of that momentum Saturday.
Charlotte shot 46.9 percent (30 of 64) while holding the Golden Eagles to 32.1 percent (18 of 56), and forced them into 16 turnovers and a 24-11 advantage in points off turnovers. The 49ers even enjoyed a 46-28 rebounding edge.
That allowed Charlotte to bounce back from a 12-6 Southern Miss lead in the first five minutes to close the half with a 30-9 run, leading by as many as 19 points before going out at the break ahead 36-21.
The 49ers spread the wealth around, too – 11 players scored, compared to only five for the Golden Eagles. That led to a 33-4 advantage in bench points for Charlotte.
“It was certainly a great bounceback win for our team,” Odom said. “Our guys were dejected because they thought we should have won (against Louisiana Tech).
“But we had a number of contributors throughout tonight’s game. Whoever we called on to go in was ready to play. Our guys competed throughout the night.”