The Charlotte 49ers’ future got bumped into the here-and-now Thursday.
With the 49ers’ three most experienced players fouled out, Charlotte turned to freshmen, sophomores and one 6-foot-11 junior to turn back Penn State 106-97 in double overtime in the first round of the Charleston Classic at TD Arena.
With sophomore guard Braxton Ogbueze scoring 26 points and junior center Mike Thorne adding 23 points and 16 rebounds, Charlotte (2-0) will face the winner of a late game between South Carolina and Cornell in the semifinals at 7 p.m. Friday.
The 49ers did it in the overtime periods without senior point guard Pierria Henry, senior wing Terrence Williams and junior power forward Willie Clayton, all of whom fouled out in regulation.
“I’m as proud of that effort of any team I’ve ever been around,” said 49ers coach Alan Major. “We probably faced every situation possible in this game, and we came through it.”
The 49ers’ two freshmen guards – Keyshawn Woods and Torin Dorn – didn’t look like players who a year ago were in high school in Charlotte (Woods at Northside Christian; Dorn at Vance). Dorn scored 12 points in 33 minutes, including a 3-pointer as the shot clock wound down after Penn State had cut the 49ers lead to two points late in regulation. Woods had 11 points.
Still, it could have been easier for the 49ers, who allowed a 17-point lead in the second half slip away. The Nittany Lions (2-1) forced overtime when John Johnson hit a 3-pointer with 1.6 seconds left. It then appeared Penn State would have a chance to escape with a victory at the end of the first overtime, but a Charlotte sophomore Cam Blakley blocked layup by D.J. Newbill with 2.8 seconds left.
Charlotte didn’t trail in the second overtime, scoring the first five points to take a 95-90 lead. Although the Nittany Lions trimmed the lead to two points twice, the 49ers kept them at bay by making all seven of their eight free throws.
“We have this thing called brotherhood,” said Ogbueze, a transfer from Florida. “That’s what picked us up. We were resilient and locked in. It kept our morale up.”
With Henry out, the 49ers offense looked disjointed in both overtime periods. But Ogbueze’s ability to break down the Penn State defense and hit free throws (11 of 11), as well as Thorne’s dominance under the boards put Charlotte over the top.
“I really liked their freshmen, they’re talented and can play in any league,” said Nittany Lions coach Patrick Chambers, whose team got 35 points from Newbill on 14-of-33 shooting. “And we knew (Ogbueze) was good, since he was recruited by Florida. That was a tough, physical game. It was Big 10-esque.”
The 49ers, who made nine-of-19 3-pointers, jumped to a 40-34 lead at halftime and were up 63-46 when Ivan Benkovic – another sophomore – hit a 3-pointer with 11 minutes, 48 seconds left in regulation.