When plays needed to be made late in the game, Georgia Tech made them and the Charlotte 49ers didn’t. That was the difference in the Yellow Jackets’ 67-66 victory Tuesday at McCamish Pavilion.
Marcus Georges-Hunt’s driving layup with 1.9 seconds left provided Georgia Tech (9-3) with the winning points after Charlotte point guard Pierria Henry had made two free throws to give the 49ers (6-6) a 66-65 lead.
Henry’s long jumper missed as time expired and the Yellow Jackets were safe from another second-half comeback by the 49ers that – again – came up empty. It was the second consecutive tough road loss for the 49ers against a quality non-conference opponent. They rallied from a 16-point second-half deficit at Georgetown on Dec. 20, before falling 81-78.
Henry shook his head when asked about the narrow losses that dropped the 49ers to .500 as they enter Conference USA play Sunday against Old Dominion at Halton Arena.
“It gives us the mindset that every possession counts, from the tip to the final buzzer,” said Henry, who led the 49ers with 14 points. “We’ve got to make sure we don’t keep making the same mistakes.”
The 49ers fell behind by as many as 12 points in the first half, when they made just 34.5 percent of their shots. But after trailing 28-20 at halftime, Charlotte opened the second half on a 14-6 run. The 49ers caught and passed the Yellow Jackets, taking a 57-52 lead on a Henry basket with 5 minutes, 54 seconds left.
“Our energy level was higher (in the second half),” 49ers coach Alan Major said. “When you have a tough offensive half, it can take some steam out of you. But we came out and set the rules in the second half.”
But Charlotte couldn’t hold the lead down the stretch. An untimely turnover by center Mike Thorne after a rare offensive rebound, led to a layup by Georges-Hunt that gave the Yellow Jackets 65-64 lead with 1:20 left.
The 49ers still had a chance after Henry’s two free throws with 10.9 seconds left, but Georges-Hunt (Georgia Tech’s only double-figure scorer with 25 points) got open on the left side for the winning basket.
The Yellow Jackets, one of the top rebounding teams in the country, controlled the backboards 35-26, including 15 offensive. Those led to 17 second-chance points. Many of them came with either Charlotte’s Thorne or power forward Willie Clayton on the bench with foul trouble.
“They’re a physical team, and you’ve got to match that,” Major said. “At times we did; at times we didn’t. Georges-Hunt got to the rim more than we’d like.”
Georgia Tech opens ACC play Saturday at Notre Dame. Yellow Jackets coach Brian Gregory once faced the 49ers each year in the Atlantic 10 when he was coach at Dayton.
“Look at Charlotte and who they’ve played; they’ve got to be the best 6-6 team in the country,” Gregory said. “What they did to us, they did to teams like Georgetown and Miami. They play too tough a (nonconference) schedule.”