San Juan, Puerto Rico – Behind five double-figure scorers and a strong defensive effort, the Charlotte 49ers (3-1) defeated Kansas State (2-2), who was 2013 Big 12 Regular-Season Co-Champions, 68-61, in the first game of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.
“It was really a hard-fought win,” Charlotte coach Alan Major said. “When we talked about, before the game, how physical it was going to be. Our mantra we’ve been chanting over-and-over is toughness. You’ve got to be mentally tough to deal with the ebbs and flows of the game and physically tough to deal with the intensity and the banging. And you’ve got to be team tough, dealing with calls and all that stuff. I thought the guys showed great toughness from beginning to end. That was a game of runs, both teams going at each other. Everybody that played chipped in; it was a great team effort.”
Mike Thorne recorded his first career double-double with a team game-high 16 points and 11 rebounds. Denzel Ingram scored 12 points off the bench in his first action of the season after missing the 49ers first three games with an injury. Willie Clayton recorded his third straight double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Pierria Henry nearly recorded a triple-double with 10 points, nine assists and seven rebounds. Shawn Lester scored 10 points off the bench. Lester also grabbed five rebounds in the game.
“We want to get Willie Clayton and Mike Thorne involved every game the best we can,” Major said. “I’m proud of those two; they put two halves together between them. We try to be an inside-out team, that’s part of our character.”
The 49ers finished the game with a 46-34 advantage on the boards. Charlotte’s defense limited Kansas State to 31% from the field and 13.3% shooting from beyond the three-point line in the second half.
The 49ers began the game with a three by Ben Cherry from the corner. Charlotte scored 22 of the game’s first 33 points taking a 22-11 lead after Clayton converted two free throws with 9:30 on the clock. Marcus Bryan, Henry, Lester and Ingram also scored during the 49ers early run.
Kansas State went on a 10-0 run over the next four minutes cutting Charlotte’s lead to 22-21 when Wesley Iwundu scored inside with 5:26 on the4 clock. Charlotte pushed their lead to five points after four straights points by Clayton. Kansas State scored five straight points tying the score at 26 with 2:28 on the clock. Each team scored four points the remainder of the half making the game tied at 30 at halftime.
Thorne started the second half by scoring the first seven 49ers points giving Charlotte a 37-32 lead after he converted a three-point play with 15:57 on the clock.
Charlotte pushed their lead to 52-39 with 11:33 on the clock after Ingram knocked down a three and Lester scored inside for the 49ers.
With Charlotte leading 54-45 after Thorne made two free throws with 6:34 on the clock, Kansas State went on a 7-0 run cutting Charlotte’s lead to 54-52 with 5:12 on the clock. Clayton fouled out with 5:12 on the clock.
Charlotte pushed their lead to 61-53 after baskets by Thorne and a three by Ingram and then a tough basket inside by Williams with 2:09 on the clock. With 3:23 on the clock, Thorne picked up his fifth foul.
However, the closest that Kansas State would get to the 49ers was 61-55 with 1:13 on the clock. Charlotte closed out the victory after free throws by Ingram, Henry and Lester down the stretch.
Charlotte advances to the semifinals of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off where the 49ers will play Northeastern, Friday, November 22 at 2:30 pm. Last season, Charlotte defeated Northeastern, 67-59, in the Championship game of the Great Alaska Shootout, November 24, 2012.