Charlotte, N.C.- Behind Ben Cherry’s career high 20 points on 6-for-8 shooting from behind the arc, the Charlotte 49ers (8-3) out last USC Upstate (6-6), 81-76, in Halton Arena on Saturday night.
Four Niners scored in double figures. Cherry led the 49ers with 20 points, Terrence Williams, Shawn Lester and Willie Clayton chipped in 13 points apiece. Mike Thorne Jr., Lester and Clayton each grabbed team high five boards apiece.
The first half was all Charlotte as the 49ers dominated shooting 61.3% from the floor and 50% from behind the arc. Charlotte sprinted out of the gate early rattling off a 9-0 run following an old fashion three-point play by Lester. The 49ers would go on a 7-2 run to push their lead to double digits, 20-10, with 12:29 remaining in the first half. The Spartans cut the lead down to eight, 26-18, after USC Upstate’s Torrey Craig hit a three with 8:41 remaining in the half.
Cherry would spark another 49er run hitting three triples in a row following the third media timeout. Cherry’s run put the Niners up by 17, 35-18, with 6:16 to go in the half.
“After I hit that first one, the guys were looking for me,” Cherry said “Pierria Henry, Denzel Ingram, Terrence Williams, and Shawn Lester would find me. I did the easy part by knocking down open looks.”
The 49ers closed the half on a 22-8 run capped off by a Lester three pointer at the pushing the lead to 22 at the break, 48-26. Charlotte held USC Upstate to 33.3% from the floor in the second half.
“It was a tremendous effort by (Cherry) to knock down those threes in the first half,” Charlotte coach Alan Major said. “It doesn’t matter if he goes 0-172 on the season, (Cherry) has been a tremendous addition to this team, as well as a leader. It took away their defensive confidence and opened up the game for us when (Cherry) was knocking down shots.”
Thirteen of the 19 baskets in the first half came off an assist and 20 of the 27 baskets for the game. Henry led the team with eight assists while Lester dished out five and Ingram had four.
“We played the first half well enough to make them miss,” Major said. “Whereas, in the second half we paced ourselves in hopes that they would miss.”
USC Upstate rallied back in the second half with a 13-3 run in the first 3:31 of the second half to cut the lead the 49ers lead to 12. USC Upstate’s Craig scored 10 points in a 2:53 span.
Charlotte kept its lead at double digits for the majority of the second half before the Spartans would strike again. “(USC Upstate) seemed to get a couple of easy baskets early in the half that seemed to trigger their momentum,” Major said.
The Spartans went on a 16-0 run with 6:10 remaining in the half to take the lead at 71-69 when Craig knocked down a three with 2:46 on the clock. Craig led the Spartans with 26 points with 18 coming in the second half.
Williams put the 49ers back on top for good with a three from the top of the key with 2:19 remaining in the game, 72-71, fueling an 8-1 run over the next two and half minutes. The 49ers went 9-for-10 from the charity stripe down the stretch to close out the win.
Charlotte finished the game shooting 51.9% from the floor. The 49ers finished the game with a 19-2 advantage in fast break points.
The 49ers take the week off for the holidays before returning to Halton Arena against ACC foe Georgia Tech (8-4) in a nationally-televised game on Fox Sports 1, Sunday, December 29 at 7 pm.