GREENVILLE, N.C. – Charlotte held a one-point cushion with 3:04 remaining but home-standing East Carolina used a 11-1 spurt down the stretch to rally for a 71-62 victory over the 49ers Saturday evening inside Minges Coliseum in Greenville, N.C.
The back-and-forth battle came down to the closing seconds and Charlotte was faced with its sixth Conference USA contest out of seven decided by 10 points or less this season.
Two Niners reached double-figure points, as sophomore Kira Gordon netted 15 points and freshman Lefty Webster chipped in a career-high 14. A trio of 49ers (Gabby Tyler, Ny Hammonds and Alexis Alexander) all added eight points apiece.
Junior Ayanna Holmes and Webster each hauled in a team-best eight boards.
The Pirates were led by Abria Trice’s 21 points, 17 of which came during the second period. Shae Nelson chipped in 17 and Jada Payne recorded 11, nine points below her average entering the contest.
Ondrea Shaw grabbed a team-high 11 rebounds, including 10 defensively, as East Carolina earned a slight, 41-39, edge on the glass.
Charlotte trailed for much of the opening period but an 11-2 run over the final 2:30 launched it into a three-point halftime cushion. Though they were down for the majority of the frame, the Niners were never behind by more than six and they used the slim deficit to their advantage down the stretch.
East Carolina had built a 25-19 advantage on an Ondrea Shaw layup at 2:34, forcing a quick 30-second timeout by 49ers head coach Cara Consuegra. Charlotte used the brief breather to turn the tide, as six points by Gordon and four from Webster, including a runner in the lane just before the buzzer, helped put the visitors on top, 30-27, entering the intermission. The 49ers were also able to capitalize by registering a pair of steals and forcing three turnovers as the clock ticked down in the stanza.
The Pirates jumped out to a quick 4-0 edge before back-to-back layups from Tyler forced the game’s first tie at the 16:45 mark. East Carolina (18-3, 6-2 C-USA) countered with another four-straight points, but a 3-pointer from Ayanna Holmes cut the margin back to one, 8-7, at 14:49. Her triple would be the start of a 7-2 stretch before Kyani White ended the surge with a trey of her own at 10:39, putting ECU back on top, 13-11.
Hillary Sigmon knotted the score once again, 13-13, but an 8-2 spurt in the next four minutes widened the Pirates advantage to a half dozen, 21-15. Charlotte (10-10, 4-3 C-USA) kept pushing, slicing the deficit to two when Gordon connected on two free throws with 4:37 left. Though they again fell behind by six by being held scoreless over the next two minutes, the 49ers never quit and rallied behind the first-half run without either Tyler or Ny Hammonds on the floor due to foul trouble.
East Carolina sprinted out to a 7-0 surge to start the second half, all behind points from Trice, to take a 34-30 lead within the first two minutes and forcing the Niners to call a timeout. Hammonds helped bring her team back, drawing the score even at 36-36 and 38-38 on consecutive layups with 13:25 to play.
Her conversions were the start of a 9-2 run, as hustle plays helped put Charlotte on top, 45-38, on its third-straight backcourt steal and layup on the other end. The 49ers aggressive defensive attack caused the Pirates to call a timeout of their own.
East Carolina responded with an 8-1 stretch, as Nelson’s layup with exactly nine minutes remaining knotted the score again, 46-46. Charlotte would then add five-straight free throws, including two from Webster after a technical foul was called on Nelson, to inch ahead, 51-46 with 8:18 to play.
The Niners’ lead remained five, 54-49, but Trice’s old-fashioned three-point play and another layup made it 54-54 with 6:07 remaining. The teams would trade one-point differences over the next three minutes with a Hammonds jumper allowing the 49ers to cling to a 61-60 advantage.
Nelson then drained a top-of-the-key uncontested triple on the next East Carolina possession, switching momentum for the final time and starting the game-ending 11-1 run to pull out the victory.
Charlotte returns to action in a week, next Saturday Feb. 8, when it plays host to Southern Miss inside Halton Arena. The contest will be the lone televised home contest of the campaign, as WCCB Charlotte will handle the broadcast. ESPN 730AM will also be on hand to carry the game over the radio airwaves.