CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Charlotte held Rice to 27.3 percent from the floor in the second half and limited the Owls to 32.4 percent for the game, pulling away after halftime to post a 58-53 home victory Saturday evening inside Halton Arena.
Defense was the main factor as Charlotte picked up its 10th victory of the campaign, improving to 10-8 overall and 4-2 in Conference USA. The Owls’ all-league performer, senior Jessica Kuster, had her way against the 49ers defense early before a change in philosophy and attitude kept her off-balance the remainder of the contest.
Charlotte only placed two players in double-figure scoring, led by senior Ny Hammonds’ 16. Redshirt junior Gabby Tyler joined her with 14 points, as both players netted eight in the final 20 minutes.
Freshman Lefty Webster, assigned to stop Kuster after the change made by head coach Cara Consuegra, finished with a career-high 10 rebounds, including eight defensively, helping the Niners to a 42-39 edge on the glass.
Kuster muscled her way to a double-double performance of 27 points and 12 rebounds, though she was one of just four Rice (10-9, 3-3 C-USA) players to score out of the 12 that saw the floor. Christal Porter added 10, while Maya Hawkins and Jasmine Goodwine each contributed eight.
The Owls went to their all-conference standout early, as she was in double-figure scoring through the first six minutes, helping Rice jump out to a 14-10 lead at 14:13. She and Porter each tallied four points in an 8-0 Owls run, breaking free from a 10-10 tie that covered over three minutes and eventually put the visitors on top 18-10 with 12:34 left.
Charlotte kept battling and would cut the deficit to two, 20-18, on an Alexis Alexander layup at the 4:15 mark. The 49ers defense would not surrender points to Rice over a near-seven minute span, from 10:55 to 3:59, when Porter ended the drought with a jumper to extend the margin back to four, 22-18.
The Niners cut the gap back to two a pair of times in the final minutes, the last on a Hammonds layup with 42 seconds remaining, but Goodwine sent the Owls in the intermission ahead four, 28-24, with a layup in the waning seconds.
Kuster ended the opening stanza with 16 points and eight rebounds, though her production dropped slightly after her blistering start. She would widen the Rice lead back to six to start the second half, but then a 6-0 Charlotte spurt forced the game’s sixth tie, 30-30, with 16:33 to go.
The two teams would trade points over the next five minutes, and a pair of Kuster free throws at 11:51 provided a 34-32 edge. On the next 49ers possession, sophomore Kira Gordon would ignite an 8-0 run as Charlotte built a 40-34 cushion with 10:11 to play.
Rice trimmed it back to four two times during the next minute, but with the score 42-38 in favor of the Niners, the home team again mounted a surge, using an 8-2 push to create a 10-point difference, 50-40, with 5:04 left when Hammonds buried a jumper.
The margin eventually hit 12, the game’s highest, when Hammonds added two charity tosses entering the final minute. Hawkins then started lighting up the scoreboard from behind the 3-point arc, burying a pair, and Kuster added a late old-fashioned three-point play, as Rice closed within five before the final horn.
The 49ers improve to 7-3 on the Halton Arena floor this year with the triumph, while also picking up double-digit wins for the 15th-consecutive season.
Charlotte returns to action with an 8 p.m. EST tip in Birmingham, Ala., against UAB. The Blazers dropped a 63-52 home decision to FIU Saturday to fall a game behind the 49ers in the league standings with a 3-3 mark and 11-8 overall.
Charlotte Postgame Quotes
Head Coach Cara Consuegra
We’ll take it, 4-2 in Conference USA. It was a battle, no doubt about it. It wasn’t the prettiest game for us in terms of our offense, but I thought our players really battled back in the second half shooting at 50 percent. We really talked about cleaning up the stuff we were running. We were very sharp offensively, by setting screens and shooting screens and sharing the ball. I think we did a great job fixing that in the second half. I’m proud of our defensive effort. Jessica Kuster is the best player in the league that I’ve seen, and one of the best players that I’ve coached against. Obviously she started hot, and we switched the matchup on her. Lefty Webster did a great job on her. I think our kids did a great job in the zone and really frustrating them. We will take it. This league is a dog of a league. It will be tough and every game will be like this. We told our team that and we just have to make sure to take care of every position we can.
On Webster guarding Kuster
I thought Lefty did a good job on making it tough for her to catch the ball and just getting the hand up on her and disrupting her.
On Webster’s rebounding
She’s a really coachable kid. When you say we got to change the rebounding to win, she made an effort to change it. But so did everyone on the team.
Redshirt junior Gabby Tyler
On what she was seeing from the post
I saw a lot of double teams. All I saw was the basket. Sometimes the double came in and sometimes it didn’t.
Senior Ny Hammonds
On taking steps forward with confidence
We just need to keep getting better. It starts in practice, but just keeps getting better because we are a young team.