Grace Hunter and Ciara Gregory were the only Charlotte players in double-figures, but their dominance was crucial down the stretch as the Charlotte 49ers (20-9, 12-6 C-USA) earned an 84-74 comeback victory over the UTEP Miners on Senior Night. Hunter notched 30 points and 15 boards in the home finale, while Gregory dropped 26 points on the Miners (8-22, 5-13 C-USA), who shot 44 percent for the game but were unable to hold on for the win.
Hunter’s monster effort was highlighted by her 10 offensive rebounds, which was the leader for both teams. Charlotte finished with 21 offensive boards and grabbed 47 total, while holding the Miners to 40 rebounds. Gregory hit five more trey balls for Charlotte, on the way to nine field goals in her last game in Halton Arena.
“What a battle. I think we left, at least the fans, with a lot to see,” Charlotte coach Cara Consuegra said. “Credit to UTEP. I thought they played really well. …There was a point in this game where we were down 10 on the boards and we finished plus-seven. Unbelievable will to win from our players. I take no credit, I did nothing but just continue to try and inspire them and they inspired me. It was just a really neat win and fun to finish on such a great note for Lefty and Ciara.”
Charlotte was slightly stagnant in the first quarter, as the team looked for Gregory and fellow senior Lefty Webster on every possession. Webster, who finished with nine points and five boards, got the first Charlotte points on a steal and fast-break layup. However, Charlotte would surrender 26 first quarter points to the Miners. UTEP shot 11-21 from the field, with Najala Howell being the main scoring threat (nine first quarter points). Charlotte shot 8-15 from the field in the first, with Gregory knocking down two of her three pointers.
After ending the first frame on an 11-4 run, UTEP carried the momentum over, as they stretched their lead to 37-22 midway through the second. However, a 12-4 Charlotte run spearheaded by Hunter whittled the deficit to just seven points. UTEP, who went into the break ahead 46-41, shot 8-16 from the field, but surrendered 11 points to Gregory. They outrebounded the Niners 10-7 during the period, but Charlotte was not to be denied.
Charlotte hit the first two field goals of the second half before UTEP countered with an 8-0 run. However, the Niners went on an 11-2 run of their own, and Jaida Robinson gave Charlotte the lead with about three minutes remaining. The Miners, who were outscored 23-18 in the third, got a momentum boost when Ax Bernard hit a three at the end of the third to tie the game at 64 apiece.
Finally, in the fourth quarter, Charlotte locked down defensively. The squad held UTEP to just 10 points, their lowest scoring quarter of the game, while Charlotte netted twice as many. UTEP hit just 4-16 field goals, and went 0-7 from downtown. Meanwhile, Hunter had a near double-double in the quarter, registering nine points and 10 rebounds. While the teams traded baskets early and often, the Miners played from behind the whole quarter and were forced to foul to stop the clock. Charlotte knocked down 7-8 free throws to put the game out of reach, and the team went 9-10 from the line in the quarter to win 84-74.
” I thought you could see down the stretch how much our kids wanted to win, not just for C and Lefty, but just for the pride of this program,” Consuegra said. “We didn’t have that pride in the beginning of February for whatever reason but we found it again and I think that’s the most important for us as we go into four games. It’s going to be a battle next week. It’s going to be tough but I thought we showed a lot of toughness and heart tonight.”
Charlotte ends the regular season with a record of 20-9 and will go into the C-USA tournament as the number 5 seed. The Niners will take on #12 Marshall on Wednesday at 4 o’clock on Campus Insiders. The Conference Tournament is being hosted in Birmingham, Alabama by UAB.