By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Usually it's the University of Cincinnati Bearcats who make in-your-face plays at the start of games, especially when those games are played at Fifth Third Arena.
"They come out and figuratively punch you in the face and take your candy from you," Charlotte coach Bobby Lutz said.
UC's Eric Hicks tries to steal the ball from Charlotte's Mitchell Baldwin.
(Mike Simons photo)
But Saturday afternoon the Charlotte players did the bullying on the Bearcats' homecourt, handing UC an 86-83 defeat before a stunned sellout crowd of 13,176.
"It would be easier for me to accept if we hadn't just got drilled by 27 (at Louisville)," UC coach Bob Huggins said. "You'd think that would bring guys down to earth and back to reality. But apparently it hasn't. I don't know if this will with this bunch. That's what concerns me. They'll probably walk in here tomorrow like they're ready to beat the Lakers."
The loss was only the sixth conference loss for eighth-ranked UC (15-2, 6-2 Conference USA) against 62 wins at Fifth Third since it opened in 1989.
Determined not to fall behind early, the 49ers (13-5, 5-2) made a statement on the opening tipoff when UC forward Jason Maxiell controlled the tip only to see Charlotte's Eddie Basden grab the ball and streak downcourt for a dunk.
"Do you think we were really juiced up to go after that ball to start with?" Huggins said. "Think about when the game started. (Charlotte) got every rebound. They got every loose ball."
Charlotte repeatedly beat the Bearcats down the floor for transition baskets, did its usual yeoman work from beyond the 3-point arc and generally dominated UC in the early going, vaulting to a 24-13 lead with 10:29 to go.
UC's Eric Hicks loses the ball under pressure from Charlotte's Curtis WIthers.
(Mike Simons photo)
The 49ers outrebounded UC 42-37 and, led by guard Brendan Plavich, who scored 17 points, outshot the Bearcats 48.4 percent to 41.3 percent.
"We weren't ready to play," said UC center Kareem Johnson, who scored a career-high 15 points and had eight rebounds.
UC eventually scrambled back into contention.
Behind Johnson's work on the offensive glass, the Bearcats recovered to grab a four-point lead at 67-63 after Tony Bobbitt's 3-pointer with 8:39 left.
It appeared they had found the spark they needed to pull away. But Charlotte had an answer for everything UC threw at it.
"We knew they were going to make a run," said Charlotte's Curtis Withers, who had 15 points and eight rebounds. "We knew we had to pull together, and not give up."
Demon Brown hit a 3-pointer, one of 10 for the 49ers in 23 attempts, to regain the lead, and from that point the lead changed hands six times. Faced with its first close game in the closing minutes this season, the Bearcats weren't up to the challenge.
Field Williams missed a 3-pointer with 1:16 left and the Bearcats trailing by one. After Withers made two free throws to give Charlotte an 84-81 lead with 45.8 seconds to go, Nick Williams threw a pass out of bounds.
Despite their mistakes near the end of the game, the Bearcats had a chance to tie on their final possession, thanks to four missed free throws in the final 21 seconds by Charlotte. But Williams' 3-point attempt from about 21 feet slid off the rim and the Bearcats, after winning their first 13 games, had lost for the second time in their last four outings.
"It was a good look," Williams said of his final shot. "It just didn't go. That's the bottom line."
Team rebounds - 4.
Team rebounds - 4.
3-pointers - Ch. 10-26 (Withers 1-3, Basden 0-2, Plavich 5-12, Brown 3-8, Johnson 1-1), UC 6-23 (White 0-3, F.Williams 1-4, N.Williams 1-6, Bobbitt 4-8, Kirkland 0-2). Technicals - Ch. 1 (Martin), UC 1 (White). Officials - Hillary, Whitehead, Higgins. Attendance - 13,176.
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