Amaya Ransom charges forward on the court. Photo by Chris Crews

Charlotte (12-15, 8-6 C-USA) women’s basketball had two players in double-figures as they fell to Middle Tennessee (17-11, 9-6 C-USA) 54-53 Sunday afternoon at Halton Arena.

It was the best defensive effort for the Niners this season in conference play, as they held Middle Tennessee to 28 percent shooting from the field.

The 49ers were led by Dara Pearson who posted a double-double, with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Only Laia Raventos topped her in the scoring column with 11, to go with six assists and six steals.

Preseason Conference USA Player of the Year Alex Johnson scored 21 points to lead all players. Jess Louro made four three-pointers as part of a double-double with 12 points and ten rebounds. Anna Jones posted 11 points off the bench for the Blue Raiders.

Both teams struggled to score to begin the game. A single Alex Johnson free throw was the first point scored with 7:36 remaining in the first quarter. The Niners remained scoreless until a layup by Octavia Wilson to give Charlotte the lead, 2-1, with 5:16 remaining. Pearson brought the margin to 4-1 on a jumper, but two more Johnson free throws made it a one-point game with four minutes remaining.

Pearson and Johnson traded buckets again, as Middle Tennessee scored for the last time in the first quarter on a layup with 3:22 remaining. The 49ers then went on an 8-0 run to close the quarter, giving the Niners a 14-5 lead at the end of the first quarter. The defensive intensity and effort for Charlotte was on its best display in the opening period as it held Middle Tennessee to only five points, three of them came at the foul line. It was the fewest points that Charlotte women’s basketball has ever allowed in a quarter.

The 49ers were unable to score themselves to start the second quarter. Jaida Robinson made a layup with 9:14 to go, but Middle Tennessee then went on a 10-2 run to close the gap to within one, 16-15, on two Abby Sissom free throws with 5:05 remaining. Wilson would make it a two-point game on a free throw, but the Blue Raiders regained the lead on a Sissom three-pointer, putting them up, 18-17, with 3:59 remaining. Middle Tennessee went on another run, a 9-0 run over the next 2:50 span to extend their lead to seven, 24-17, with 1:48 remaining. Raventos finally ended the 49ers drought with a layup on the next possession, but Jones made a three-pointer and Katie Collier made two free throws to give Middle Tennessee the lead going into halftime, 29-19.

Amaya Ransom started the third quarter for the 49ers with a three-pointer. Pearson’s jumper at the 6:11 mark brought Charlotte within six, 32-26, but a three-point play from Johnson pushed the Blue Raiders lead back to nine with 5:33 remaining. Nyilah Jamison-Myers hit a layup at the 3:25 mark to reach her 1,000th point of her career.  Middle Tennessee pushed its lead to 10, 41-31, on a Louro three-pointer with 3:06 to play but Wilson’s jumper at the 2:27 mark was the start of a 7-1 49ers run to close the quarter. Raventos got a steal and raced to the hoop to cut the deficit to four, 41-37, before a free throw by Jamison-Myers and Johnson finished the quarter with Middle Tennessee leading by four, 42-38.

Charlotte got the first five points of the fourth quarter, to take the lead, 43-42, with 7:58 remaining. The two teams went back-and-forth over the next four minutes, neither team pulled ahead by more than one, before Anna Jones three-pointer gave Middle Tennessee a two-point lead, 49-47, with 3:59 remaining. Raventos tied the game with free throws and Mariah Linney added free throws as the 49ers got the lead back, 51,49, with 2:11 remaining. Louro hit a long-distance three to get the Blue Raiders the lead back, 52-51.

After some defensive stops on both ends, Raventos assisted Jamison-Myers on a layup with 41 seconds remaining as the Niners took the lead, 53-52. Johnson made two free throws with 25.3 seconds remaining to give the Blue Raiders the lead 54-53. A missed jumper by Wilson led to two more Johnson free throws, she missed both with 12.2 seconds left and Charlotte was out of timeouts. The 49ers were unable to get a shot off on their final possession.

“We have got to be accountable for that loss. We have nobody to look at but ourselves. We lost that game in the second quarter, obviously. We can’t play a great team like Middle Tennessee, get outscored 24-5 and expect to win. With that being said, we had a great fight in the second half but it’s just disappointing that we were in that position.

“It’s disappointing we’re in that position based on lessons I thought we have learned. We’re not the same team when Ny and Laia are in foul trouble. Everybody in this room knows that but they’re picking up fouls in that second quarter and it crushed us,” said Head coach Cara Consuegra.

Charlotte will play against Old Dominion at Halton Arena on Thursday. Tip-off is set for 5 p.m.