The No. 7 seed Charlotte 49ers lost a heartbreaker against the No. 2 seed Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders 79-61 in the Conference USA tournament quarterfinals, not having enough gas to piece together a comeback late in the second half, bringing an end to their 2016 season.
“Give Middle Tennessee a lot of credit,” said head coach Mark Price. “They are a hard-nosed veteran team. This is just another learning lesson for our young guys.”
The 49ers started off the game rather well, knocking down four straight free-throws, hitting a couple jumpers and a three to go up 11-7. Charlotte kept a steady lead over the Blue Raiders throughout the entire first half.
Freshman point guard Jon Davis led the attack in the first half with eight points, coming up with two steals, leading to six fast break points. The 49ers were also carried by senior Joseph Uchebo who picked up nine points and seven rebounds in the first half.
Although Charlotte led Middle Tennessee almost every minute of the first half, the Blue Raiders put up 20 of their 33 points in the paint, making Uchebo work hard for every rebound.
Charlotte took a 36-33 lead going into halftime, proving to be one of the last leads the 49ers had for the rest of the night.
Coming out of the break, it was obvious that Middle Tennessee did not want to leave Legacy Arena with a loss.
The Blue Raiders made the first six points of the second half to go up 39-36, as Charlotte did not make a single basket until over three and a half minutes into the second half, that being a layup by Anthony Vanhook.
“They just played harder than us,” said Braxton Ogbueze. “They came out and wanted it and they just outplayed us in the second half.”
The 49ers went scoreless for the next five minutes, digging themselves in a large deficit, 54-38, behind a 15-0 run from the Blue Raiders.
Uchebo got checked out with 13:31 remaining in the second half, which was the last time the senior standout from Nigeria went back to the court for the 49ers.
“It was just a match-up thing. Going in, we knew it was going to be a tough match-up for Joseph. Both their bigs are fast and athletic. Guys who can stretch you out and drive on you. That’s just not Joseph’s forte,” said Price after the game.
Price added by saying, “It has nothing to do with the way he played because Joseph has been a warrior for us in every game this year and unfortunately it was just a bad match-up situation for him.”
Throughout the rest of the game, the 49ers found themselves with at least a 10-point deficit, not having the fire power to produce a comeback.
Charlotte walked off the court for the last time of the 2016 season, keeping their heads up, knowing what all they accomplished throughout the year.
“I told the guys in the locker room to hold their heads high, because these guys fought hard for me all year long and we have nothing to be ashamed of,” said Price. “We are going to get better and we are going to continue to add pieces to what we have. I’m very proud of my crew.”