The 49ers are hoping that victory gives them momentum heading into Friday’s quarterfinal matchup with the 16th-ranked Billikens at the Barclays Center.
Charlotte (21-10) won 68-63 over Richmond in Thursday’s first round. The 49ers trailed 63-60 with 4.7 seconds to go before a controversial finish that featured three technical fouls on the Spiders, leading to eight made free throws from Pierria Henry over the rest of the contest.
The craziness began when Richmond fouled Henry to prevent Charlotte from attempting a tying 3-pointer. After Henry made the front end of a one-and-one, the Spiders’ Derrick Williams and Charlotte’s Willie Clayton got tangled as they set up for a potential rebound, and Williams was called for a technical for shoving Clayton to the floor.
Henry made three more free throws and the 49ers retained possession. He hoisted a 3-point attempt as he was fouled after receiving the inbounds, and the referees awarded him three free throws.
Spiders coach Chris Mooney was then called for two technicals and ejected. Henry made four of seven free throws to seal the win.
“You couldn’t make that up if you want to make a movie out of that one,” 49ers coach Alan Major said. “But, you know, we just talked to our guys about always making sure you keep your poise.”
Henry scored a career-high 28 points for Charlotte, which now looks for a fourth straight win as it tries to end a three-game skid to the Billikens.
“You’re facing a top-15 team in the country tomorrow in Saint Louis, a top-10 defensive team,” Major said. “Coach (Jim) Crews, the (conference) head coach of the year award because it’s very difficult to take over a situation that he did and losing a coach mid-year and keep it steady the way he did all season, he deserves a ton of credit.”
Crews, filling in for the late Rick Majerus, guided Saint Louis to its first outright regular-season conference title since capturing the Missouri Valley Conference in 1956-57. The Billikens (24-6) have won 12 of 13.
“I couldn’t be more pleased or proud or tickled for these guys to win a championship,” Crews said. “It’s hard to win a game, much less a championship.”
A battle of the reserves could be on tap since Charlotte finished the regular season averaging a conference-best 28.3 points from its bench while Saint Louis was second at 23.3.
Saint Louis held Charlotte leading scorer Chris Braswell to four points, matching his season low. That type of defensive effort isn’t surprising, with the Billikens limiting opponents to a league-low 58.4 points per game.
Ellis, meanwhile, has been badly struggling, averaging 3.6 points on 5-of-40 shooting over the past five games.