Charlotte broke open a tie game early in the second halfwith a pivotal 20-7 run, as the 49ers captured the first game of the seventhannual Puerto Rico Tip-Off on Thursday with a 68-61 win over Kansas State atthe Coliseo Roberto Clemente.
K-State's early-season offensive woes continued againstCharlotte (3-1), as the Wildcats connected on 37.3 percent (22-of-59) from thefield, including just 31 percent (9-of-29) in the second half. The squad alsomade just 19.2 percent (5-of-26) from the 3-point line and 63.2 percent(12-of-19) from the free throw line. The 49ers took advantage of foul troubleby forwards Thomas Gipson and D.J. Johnson to post a 46-34 edgein rebounding, including 17 offensive boards.
"Charlotte played a good,well-rounded game; mixed their defenses, pounded the boards, got to the freethrow line," said head coach Bruce Weber. "For us, we didn't start verywell in either half. Both times we came back, fought back; got a tie, took thelead in the first half, but never could get over the hump. They made the playswhen it counted and we didn't."
Freshman Nigel Johnson came off the bench to scorea team-high 14 points on 5-of-12 field goals, including three treys, to go withsix rebounds and two steals in 23 minutes. Senior Shane Southwell nearlyrecorded a double-double with 11 points and a career-tying nine rebounds, whilefreshman Marcus Foster added 11 points to score in double figures forthird straight game.
The teams wentback-and-forth early until Charlotte used a 13-0 run over a three-minute spanto take a commanding 20-8 edge at the 11:03 mark before halftime. With the49ers leading by 11, the Wildcats responded with 10 straight points -- keyed bytwo Johnson 3-pointers -- to close the gap to 22-21 with 5:26 to play.Charlotte immediately pushed its advantage out with five straight points, butK-State scored nine of the last 13 points in the first half to knot the score,30-all, at halftime.
The Wildcats (2-2) started the second half slow, as the49ers broke a 32-all tie with an 11-4 run over a five- minute span to take a43-36 edge with 13:14 to play. The lead was increased to 52-39 at the 11:33mark with another 9-3 spurt. However, K-State didn't go away, using a 13-2 runto close within 54-52 with 5:12 play after a pair of free throws by senior WillSpradling.
Despite several chances down the stretch for K-State, itwas Charlotte that responded with seven of the next eight points to push thelead back out to eight points. The Wildcats could get no closer than six pointsthe rest of the way, as the 49ers knocked down 7-of-8 free throws to close outthe victory.
Sophomore Mike Thorne, Jr., led a balanced attackfor Charlotte with a game-high 16 points and 11 rebounds, as five 49ers scoredin double figures. Reserve Denzel Ingram had 12 points, while WillieClayton, Pierria Henry and Shawn Lester each added 10 points.Clayton also posted 10 rebounds to join Thorne with a double-double. Henry hada near triple-double with nine assists and seven rebounds.
K-State continues play at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off onFriday morning, as the Wildcats will play Georgetown (1-1) at 11 a.m. CT oneither ESPNU or online at ESPN3. The Hoyas lost to Northeastern, 63-56, in thetournament's second game on Thursday. Following Friday's action, the Wildcatswill take Saturday off before playing the final game on Sunday at time to bedetermined.
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