CHARLOTTE, N.C. – A new-look Charlotte 49ers women’s basketball put together a gritty performance, grinding out a full 40-minute effort, to pick up a 66-56 victory over Liberty at home Friday night in the season opener for both schools. It marked the fourth-straight win in a season opener, all at home, for the Niners.
Charlotte (1-0) featured a make-shift lineup but sophomore Tori Carter, who earned her first career start, finished with a game-best 14 points. She hit one-half of her dozen field goal attempts and 2-of-3 free throws. She was joined in double figures by redshirt junior Gabby Tyler, who tallied 13 points in her first outing since 2011-12. Tyler’s total featured a 5-of-5 showing at the charity stripe, as the pair helped the 49ers to a 22-of-27 (81.5 percent) combined effort.
Leading the Niners on the glass was sophomore Kira Gordon, who also was making her first career start. She pulled in six boards and shared game-high honors with junior Ayanna Holmes with three steals apiece.
The tenacious Charlotte defense forced Liberty (0-1) into 30 turnovers, including 14 by the Lady Flames’ starting backcourt.
Liberty was guided by 13 points each from Sadalia Ellis and Ashley Rininger. The pair hit five field goals apiece but attempted a combined 24 shots from the floor.
The 49ers combated the tall and lengthy Lady Flames squad by jumping out to an early lead, breaking open a 4-4 tie with a 9-3 spurt in just over five minutes to take a 13-7 advantage. Junior Hillary Sigmon drained a 3-pointer to cap the run following a steal by classmate Olivia Rankin.
It remained at least a two-possession game through the next five minutes before a layup by Katelyn Adams brought Liberty within two, 17-15, with 6:46 to go in the opening period.
A layup by freshman Ciara Gregory and two free throws from fellow rookie Lefty Webster ignited a 12-2 half-closing run. With a stout defensive effort down the stretch, Charlotte forced the Lady Flames into seven turnovers and seven missed shots to enter the half with the 12-point cushion, 29-17.
Liberty opened the second stanza with a 6-2 push, trimming the deficit to eight on back-to-back layups from Reagan Miller and Rininger. However, the Niners looked to Tyler for the next four points, as she converted consecutive jumpers to increase the gap back to a dozen, 35-23, with 15:35 to play.
Over the next three-and-a-half minutes, the closest the Lady Flames would be able to close the margin would be to seven, 37-30, following an Emily Frazier triple at 12:02. However, by the 8:57 mark, Charlotte claimed its largest lead of the game as Tyler netted six straight to extend the margin to 14, 49-35.
Just when the 49ers thought they could get comfortable, Liberty responded with another surge of its own. Back-to-back 3-pointers from Simone Brown and Ellis pulled the Lady Flames within six, 51-45, and forced Charlotte into a 30-second timeout.
Following the quick break, the Niners answered with four-straight points to make it a double-digit difference once again, 55-45, entering the final five minutes. Ellis kept her team close, though, and used two free throws and a jumper to cut the gap back to six, 57-51, at 3:37.
The two teams traded points over the course of the next two minutes before Carter’s layup with 1:20 to play made it a 10-point contest, 65-55, effectively putting it out of reach.
The 49ers improve to 30-9 all-time in season openers, including an 18-1 mark when that contest also comes at home. Charlotte is 15-3 inside Halton Arena home openers since the facility opened during the 1996-97 campaign.
The Niners will now have a quick turnaround for their next game, a 1:30 p.m. EST Sunday contest in Manhattan, Kan., against the Big 12’s Kansas State Wildcats. Kansas State opened its season Friday night with a win over Tennessee State.
Sunday’s game can be heard live on Charlotte49ers.com with Josh Feldman handling the play-by-play duties. Live video and stats are available through links on the website, while updates can also be found on Twitter by following @49erGameDay.
Charlotte 49ers Postgame Quotes
Head Coach Cara Consuegra
“It was a really great win for us. Liberty is a story program in terms of its success. It was a really great opening match for us and I’m really proud of our team for getting a win. We knew it was going to be a tough game and we knew it would be a battle. I thought we did a tremendous job executing our defensive game plan, which is really good for a young team.
“We didn’t have a lot of defensive mistakes and I was really proud of that. Forcing them to 30 turnovers has been our goal for coming into this season.
“I thought offensively, we did some great things. I’m happy with the way we shot twos and free throws but we got to work on our threes. I think it was just an off-night for some of our shooters.
“Overall it was a great win for us and I’m happy to be 1-0 to start the season.”
On the turnovers
“We don’t use youth as an excuse. Everybody knows that we are a young team. It’s not something we talk about because we expect — it doesn’t matter how old you are or what year you are in school — we expect our team to execute and play up to the standards in our program.”
Tori Carter, Sophomore Guard
On her first career start and on scoring a career high
“It felt great. Last year, I understood that I was learning a lot and I accepted my role and worked hard this summer. I played hard today.”
Gabby Tyler, Redshirt Junior Forward
On if she was over-hyped at the beginning
“I was a little excited at first but I calmed down afterwards. I was a little excited to be back on the court.”