Charlotte was leading by one with under six seconds remaining and was about to earn their first win in the last 11 contests but the 49ers allowed Paul Thomas for UTEP to score the game-winning layup with two seconds remaining, leading to the Niners heartbreaking loss 87-86.
“You’re one or two plays away from securing what you are working for,” Charlotte interim head coach Houston Fancher said. “We looked like we never practiced in the first five minutes of the game. It was comical the things that we were doing. But to our credit, we fought back. We fought our way back into the game and put ourselves in position to win a basketball game”.
After scoring the first points of the game off of a Jon Davis jumper, Charlotte was out-scored 29-5 and forced Coach Fancher to call two timeouts in the first six minutes of the game. After making some shots, Charlotte regained their stride and started to fight their way back into the game.
Charlotte, trailing by 22 points, went on a 8-0 run lead by Andrien White to cut the lead down to under 15. Trailing 48-31 with 3:49 remaining in the first half, Charlotte finished the half strong, making their last four shots of the half, which were all three-pointers. UTEP guard, Omega Harris, made a three-pointer as time expired, as UTEP lead 53-45 going into the second half.
Both teams were on fire from behind the arc as both teams made nine three-pointers in the first half. White lead the Niners with 17 points in the first half and Evan Gilyard led the Miners with 14 points.
The Niners continued to fight back but could not take the lead as UTEP held a six-point lead with 17:09 remaining. With Charlotte trailing 61-55, Austin Ajukwa scored six straight points to tie the game at 61 all. Davis made a mid-range jumper to give Charlotte a 63-61 lead, which was the first time the Niners lead since 2-0.
With Charlotte trailing by three, the Niners went on an 12-3 run to take their largest lead of the night, 82-75. With 4:20 remaining, UTEP responded with six unanswered points to cut the deficit to one point. After both teams traded buckets, Charlotte remained in the lead with under two minutes remaining, as the Niners looked to close out their first win in the last 11 games.
With under a minute remaining in the game, Jailan Haslem made a pair of free throws to give Charlotte a three point lead. The Miners would quickly respond with a layup from Evan Gilyard to put the lead back to one for the Niners. Jon Davis went to the line and missed the front end of a one-and-one, which gave UTEP a chance. Evan Gilyard missed a layup with eight seconds remaining but Charlotte could not get the crucial rebound, as three 49er teammates were fighting for the rebound. Paul Thomas made a quick spin move around Najee Garvin to set up the game-winning layup to give UTEP an 87-86 thrilling win over the Niners.
Ajukwa had the hot hand, scoring a season-high 24 points off of five made three-pointers. White followed up Ajukwa with 21 points. Davis finished the game with 12 points and nine assists and Luka Vasic finished the game with 12 points off of 4-for-5 shooting from three-point land.
UTEP had five players score in double figures tonight, lead by Evan Gilyard and Isiah Osborne with 22 points each. Paul Thomas recorded a double-double for the Miners with 15 points and 11 rebounds.
Interim head coach Houst0n Fancher talked about how they need to get off to a better start so they do not fall behind like they did tonight.
“We talked about slow starts all week. We had that slow start again. We need to eliminate that. I thought we were prepared and focused but what gets us going are making shots and we didn’t do that the first few possessions.”
Fancher was pleased with his players effort even after muffing the rebound late in the game.
“There’s not many times I’m gonna argue when we have three guys chasing a rebound.”
Charlotte returns to action when they host the UTSA Roadrunners on Saturday, Feb. 17 at 7 p.m.