CINCINNATI (AP)—Charlotte coach Bob Lutz knew his team had to get a quick start, then outshoot and outrebound No. 8 Cincinnati the rest of the way.
Charlotte did just that Saturday, upsetting the Bearcats 86-83 for the 49ers’ first victory in 10 tries in Cincinnati.
“Usually, here, you’re down 10 before the first media timeout,” Lutz said. “Figuratively, not literally, they punch you in the face and take your candy away.
“We’ve stressed for the last two days rebound and being physical. We were able to get off to a good start, but that’s not enough. You’ve got to be able to sustain it to get a win.”
Curtis Withers made a pair of free throws with 45 seconds left to seal the victory, but Charlotte (13-5, 5-2 Conference USA) led most of the way and staved off several rallies.
Nick Williams tried to tie the game as the buzzer sounded, but his 3-point shot banged off the back of the rim.
“I got a good look. It just didn’t go,” Williams said. “That’s the bottom line. We didn’t have a lot of time. We had to get it up quick.”
Brendan Plavich finished with 17 points for Charlotte, and Withers had 15. Demon Brown and Eddie Basden had 13 apiece, and Martin Iti had 11.
After two blowout wins, following a 27-point loss to conference leader Louisville, Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins said his players had a poor practice Friday and it showed against the 49ers.
“They outmanned us. They totally outmanned us,” Huggins said. “They got every rebound and every loose ball. I don’t have problems losing. I have a problem with not competing.”
Kareem Johnson led Cincinnati (15-2, 6-2) with 15 points, Tony Bobbitt had 14 and Williams, Eric Hicks and Jason Maxiell all had 11.
A basket by Johnson gave Cincinnati a 79-77 lead with 3:07 to play. Withers answered with a basket, and Iti had a slam dunk and free throw to put Charlotte ahead for good.
Johnson narrowed the margin to 82-81 with a tip-in, but Withers’ free throws made it a three-point game again.
By then, Cincinnati started fouling to send the 49ers to the free throw line. That partly worked: Brown missed a pair and Plavich made one of two.
A basket by Williams pulled Cincinnati to 85-83 with 10 seconds left, and again Plavich made just one of two. But it was enough to pull out the win.
“We knew they’d make a run, but we had to stay focused and play together and not give up,” Basden said. “We knew that if we stayed together, we would have a chance.”
The Bearcats, playing only their second afternoon game of the season, were sluggish early, missing nine of their first 12 shots. This time, they were unable to recover, as they did Wednesday night against East Carolina, when they missed 11 of 15.
Johnson, who ran off seven straight points to tie it at 57 midway through the second half, tried to shoulder the blame for the loss.
“I had a terrible first half. I put our team in a big hole, and I knew I had to step it up,” Johnson said. “I wasn’t rebounding, and I gave a lot of second chances to my man.”
But Huggins said the fault was his.
“It wasn’t that I didn’t know we weren’t ready,” Huggins said. “I knew we weren’t ready. I just didn’t know what to do about it.”
Lutz said Saturday’s win was the biggest of the season for Charlotte, which also beat then-No.7 Syracuse on the road in December.
“This was a classic game. Neither team would go away,” Lutz said. “We took a punch at the beginning of the second half, but they couldn’t get away from us, and we hit some big shots.”