There’s nothing quite like coming home to get Pierria Henry going.
Playing just down the road from his hometown of Charleston, W.Va., Henry led the Charlotte 49ers to a much-needed 77-72 victory against Marshall in a Conference USA game at the Henderson Center.
Henry filled the stat sheet with 19 points, five rebounds, nine assists and six steals as Charlotte (7-8, 1-2) snapped a four-game losing streak.
“It was amazing and emotional at times,” said Henry, the 49ers’ senior guard who scored 26 points last season at Marshall. “You look behind our bench and you see all my family, sweating bullets there with me, yelling my name. Words can’t express it. It makes for a different vibe and atmosphere. But in the end, it’s still basketball.”
The 49ers took advantage of an uncharacteristically strong start to subdue the Thundering Herd (4-12, 0-3), which hasn’t won a game against a Division I opponent since November.
The game featured a change in Charlotte’s starting lineup, with freshman Torin Dorn replacing senior Terrence Williams. It was the first time this season that the 49ers’ lineup had varied. Interim coach Ryan Odom said Williams was benched for being late to the team breakfast Saturday morning.
Dorn helped the 49ers avoid a slow start, which has been a problem this season, by hitting a 3-pointer and finishing a dunk on two of the 49ers first three possessions, helping them to a 7-2 lead early on.
The 49ers led by as many as 10 points in the first half, getting a boost off the bench from freshman Keyshawn Woods, who made 4-of-5 3 pointers during the game – including one as the halftime buzzer sounded for a 41-36 lead.
The halftime lead was the first time the 49ers have had an advantage at the break since the season’s second game against Penn State. The 49ers bench outscored Marshall’s 24-3 in the first half, and made 13 of their first 17 shots, but cooled substantially the rest of the way.
The 49ers extended the lead to 57-43 with 14 minutes, 9 seconds left in the game on a 3-pointer by Cameron Blakley. But Marshall wouldn’t let the 49ers run away with it, trimming the lead to 73-72 on two free throws by Austin Loop, who finished with 26 points, with 8.2 seconds left.
Henry hit two free throws with 7.2 seconds then stole the ball as Marshall brought the ball upcourt, feeding it to Dorn, whose dunk as the buzzer sounded gave the 49ers their final margin.
Woods finished with 18 points. Dorn had 12 and Williams, who played 27 minutes, added 11.
The 49ers could have made things easier on themselves, but a 12-for-25 performance at the free-throw line prevented that. They were 2 of 12 down the stretch.
“Late in the game showed we showed some poise,” said Odom, who is filling in while Alan Major is on an indefinite medical leave of absence. “There was a little bit of anxiety there because we had the lead throughout. But our guys fought and calmed down.”
Charlotte returns to Halton Arena for two games next week, against North Texas on Thursday and Rice on Saturday.