College Basketball

49ers outlast Gamecocks, to play for early season championship

The Charlotte 49ers are playing – yet again – for the championship of another early-season basketball tournament on Sunday.

Charlotte beat South Carolina 65-63 Friday in the semifinals of the Charleston Classic at TD Arena. The 49ers (3-0) will play Miami, a 79-51 winner against Akron, at 9 p.m. Sunday for the championship.

In a scheduling oddity, the 49ers and Hurricanes will play again Tuesday in Halton Arena in what's called a "non-bracketed" Charleston Classic game.

The 49ers have won the past two November tournaments in which they’ve played – last season’s Puerto Rico Tipoff and the Great Alaska Shootout in 2012.

And as it was in a 105-97 double-overtime victory Thursday against Penn State, the 49ers again beat a team from one of the NCAA’s five “power” conferences.

The 49ers trailed 36-29 at halftime, but started the second half on 9-2 run that stunned the Gamecocks (2-2).

“They came out and imposed their will on us early in the second half,” said South Carolina coach Frank Martin. “They basically said: ‘Here’s the ball. We’re taking it to the rim. Good luck stopping that.’ ”

Charlotte got its winning points on two free throws by center Mike Thorne with 1 minute, 10 seconds left.

The final minute seemed to take about an hour to play. The 49ers got the ball back with 14 seconds remaining on a five-second violation, but couldn’t take advantage when Thorne missed two free throws after being fouled on the ensuing inbounds play.

Trailing 65-63, South Carolina got the ball back, but Charlotte used up two fouls (they were under the limit) to milk the clock to 2.5 seconds.

All that was left for South Carolina was a quick in-bounds play and Sindarius Thornwell, from Lancaster, S.C., missed from the top of the key as the buzzer sounded.

“It’s always a dangerous thing when you start fouling,” said Charlotte associate head coach Ryan Odom. “You’re risking them shooting it. So you’re hoping for them to take the ball in a bit at a time rather than ending up at the free throw line. But it worked and we contested very well defensively there at the end.”

Odom was speaking for 49ers coach Alan Major, who had a dizzy spell after the game. He’s expected to be OK.

The 49ers got double-figure scoring from four players – 14 points from sophomore guard Braxton Ogbueze, 12 from senior guard Pierria Henry, 11 from forward Willie Clayton and 10 from Thorne.

Thornwell, who had 18 points at halftime, cooled off considerably in the second half and finished with 20.

Henry said Thursday’s double-overtime victory against Penn State helped give the 49ers the belief they could do it again against South Carolina.

“It helped us a lot,” he said. “It helped us realize what we have in the locker room, what we have together. This team isn’t going to lay down. We’ve got a lot of belief in this program. We can overcome anything.”