The Charlotte 49ers took their show to Uptown on Tuesday evening and nearly knocked off the Georgetown Hoyas in front of a crowd of 6,448 at Time Warner Cable Arena. The two teams fought tooth-and-nail down to the wire, but the Hoyas delivered when it mattered most and escaped with a 62-59 victory.
“It was a hard fought game. From an intensity and effort level I thought we were great,” said 49ers head coach Mark Price after the game.
“I told these guys at the beginning of the season that it’s not easy to win a college basketball game. You’ve got to learn how to win and learn how to close out games … It was the little things that cost us the game tonight. We missed too many free throws and a had a few breakdowns defensively. It doesn’t take much more than three or four breakdowns against a good team to cost you the game.”
The Niners (2-9) limped out of the gates, playing without Bernard Sullivan who was sidelined with a concussion according to the public address announcer. Charlotte owned an 8-6 lead at the first media timeout behind two early triples from Braxton Ogbueze, but the Hoyas answered with a 24-8 run as Ogbueze sat on the bench in foul trouble.
Georgetown (7-5) appeared to be in full command and ready to bury the 49ers up by 14 points with five minutes remaining before halftime. However, Ogbueze checked back in and immediately buried back-to-back three balls to ignite the crowd and inject some life into his teammates. Joseph Uchebo followed suit, battling the bigger Hoyas in the paint as the two veterans helped Charlotte cut the deficit to 32-29 at the intermission.
“Two weeks ago that might have ended up being a 20-point deficit by halftime,” said Price.
“No question the team rallied around Braxton at the end of the first half. Him knocking down a couple shots kind of relaxed everybody and we started playing really good basketball the rest of the way.”
The 49ers had all the momentum coming out of the locker room to begin the second half and played with a confidence that has been hard to find at times this season. Three consecutive baskets gave the Niners their first lead since the opening minutes and forced the Hoyas to call a quick timeout to regain their composure.
Georgetown responded to coach John Thompson III with a 6-0 run out of the break to regain a 40-35 advantage, but Charlotte’s Jon Davis answered by going coast-to-coast and finishing with authority at the rim. Ogbueze drilled his fifth three-pointer of the night on the following possession to put the 49ers back on top and set up a thrilling back-and-forth finish down the stretch.
Charlotte led 54-53 with 2:23 left on the clock when the Hoyas called a timeout following a missed lay-up by Benas Griciunas. L.J. Peak, who was 0-8 from the floor at the time, hit the biggest shot of the night when he buried a wide open three that found nothing but net and gave Georgetown a two-point advantage. D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera delivered the dagger with 1:31 remaining, finishing through contact at the rim and completing the old-fashioned three-point play at the free throw line.
“I’m not into moral victories by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m pleased with how we played,” added Price.
“If we play as hard and as together as we did tonight the rest of the way I think we’ll be able to have a strong finish to the season.”
Ogbueze led all scorers with 18 points on Tuesday night and has seemingly found his jump-shot after eclipsing 20 points in each of Charlotte’s previous two games. Uchebo stepped up without Sullivan, recording 12 points and 10 boards for his second double-double this season.
The 49ers will take a week off for Christmas before returning to the court on December 29 against The Citadel with tip off scheduled for 7 p.m. inside Halton Arena.