Charlotte broke open a tie game early in the second half with a pivotal 20-7 run, as the 49ers captured the first game of the seventh annual Puerto Rico Tip-Off on Thursday with a 68-61 win over Kansas State at the Coliseo Roberto Clemente.
K-State’s early-season offensive woes continued against Charlotte (3-1), as the Wildcats connected on 37.3 percent (22-of-59) from the field, including just 31 percent (9-of-29) in the second half. The squad also made just 19.2 percent (5-of-26) from the 3-point line and 63.2 percent (12-of-19) from the free throw line. The 49ers took advantage of foul trouble by forwardsThomas Gipson and D.J. Johnson to post a 46-34 edge in rebounding, including 17 offensive boards.
“Charlotte played a good, well-rounded game; mixed their defenses, pounded the boards, got to the free throw line,” said head coach Bruce Weber. “For us, we didn’t start very well in either half. Both times we came back, fought back; got a tie, took the lead in the first half, but never could get over the hump. They made the plays when it counted and we didn’t.”
Freshman Nigel Johnson came off the bench to score a team-high 14 points on 5-of-12 field goals, including three treys, to go with six rebounds and two steals in 23 minutes. Senior Shane Southwell nearly recorded a double-double with 11 points and a career-tying nine rebounds, while freshman Marcus Foster added 11 points to score in double figures for third straight game.
The teams went back-and-forth early until Charlotte used a 13-0 run over a three-minute span to take a commanding 20-8 edge at the 11:03 mark before halftime. With the 49ers leading by 11, the Wildcats responded with 10 straight points — keyed by two Johnson 3-pointers — to close the gap to 22-21 with 5:26 to play. Charlotte immediately pushed its advantage out with five straight points, but K-State scored nine of the last 13 points in the first half to knot the score, 30-all, at halftime.
The Wildcats (2-2) started the second half slow, as the 49ers broke a 32-all tie with an 11-4 run over a five- minute span to take a 43-36 edge with 13:14 to play. The lead was increased to 52-39 at the 11:33 mark with another 9-3 spurt. However, K-State didn’t go away, using a 13-2 run to close within 54-52 with 5:12 play after a pair of free throws by senior Will Spradling.
Despite several chances down the stretch for K-State, it was Charlotte that responded with seven of the next eight points to push the lead back out to eight points. The Wildcats could get no closer than six points the rest of the way, as the 49ers knocked down 7-of-8 free throws to close out the victory.
Sophomore Mike Thorne, Jr., led a balanced attack for Charlotte with a game-high 16 points and 11 rebounds, as five 49ers scored in double figures. Reserve Denzel Ingram had 12 points, while Willie Clayton, Pierria Henry and Shawn Lestereach added 10 points. Clayton also posted 10 rebounds to join Thorne with a double-double. Henry had a near triple-double with nine assists and seven rebounds.
K-State continues play at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off on Friday morning, as the Wildcats will play Georgetown (1-1) at 11 a.m. CT on either ESPNU or online at ESPN3. The Hoyas lost to Northeastern, 63-56, in the tournament’s second game on Thursday. Following Friday’s action, the Wildcats will take Saturday off before playing the final game on Sunday at time to be determined.