Charlotte wasn’t about to let this game slip away. Even after letting an early 12-point lead evaporate and falling behind in the second half.
Braxton Ogbueze made sure of that. The 6-foot-1 junior guard lit it up from the outside for a game-high 30 points in the 49ers’ 88-75 win over Rice Thursday night at Tudor Fieldhouse.
“He was on fire, especially when they made their run,” 49ers coach Mark Price said. “We needed somebody to step up and make some big plays. And he was the guy to do that.
“I drew up a couple of plays for him, hoping he could knock them down, and he did. And that gave our guys confidence to finish this thing off.”
Ogbueze was 10 of 16 from the field – 8 of 14 on 3-pointers. His 3-pointer with 13:54 remaining in the game gave the 49ers the lead for good against the Owls, who play considerably better at home than on the road.
“Give credit to Rice,” said Ogbueze. “But our guys were resilient. We didn’t play our best, but we didn’t hang our heads. We kept playing.
“I got good looks and credit to my teammates, they were finding me.”
Curran Scott, who has struggled on the road, added 20 points for the 49ers (13-17, 9-8), who have won five of their last seven games. Joseph Uchebo, a 6-foot-10 senior, was a presence in the middle with 17 points and nine rebounds, adding to his Conference USA single-season rebound record in conference games at 220 with one regular-season game left.
Up by 12 points less than six minutes into the game, Charlotte, which led by 38-34 at the break, couldn’t hold onto the lead as Rice (12-18, 7-10) charged back. Charlotte point guard Jon Davis got in foul trouble and played only nine minutes in the first half.
“In the last 10 minutes we got back to playing our style of basketball,” Price said. “We were able to get out and get some easy baskets.”
Rice’s largest second-half lead was 42-40 with 18 minutes left, and the Owls last led at 48-47 with 15:32 to play.
The conference’s top 3-point shooting team, the 49ers made 11 of 25 3-pointers.
Seeding destiny is in the 49ers’ hands. They will get the sixth seed in the conference tournament with a win Saturday at North Texas, having the tie-breaker over UTEP.
“It’s not about anybody but us,” Price said. “It would be nice to play well on Saturday and get momentum going into the tournament.”
The Conference USA tournament is March 8-12 at Birmingham, Ala.
“This (win) is big,” Ogbueze said. “We’re definitely playing for something.”
In an earlier meeting this season, the 49ers routed the Owls 102-73 on Feb. 11 at Halton Arena. A game in which the 49ers outscored the Owls 66-27 in the second half.
Marcus Evans, the talented 6-3 freshman who scored Rice’s first 10 points, finished with 27 points.