CINCINNATI (AP)—For the first 20 minutes, Nick Williams was just like everyone else on the floor. He couldn’t make an open shot.
All that changed with his first swish.
Williams scored 19 of his career-high 22 points in the second half Wednesday night, steadying No. 20 Cincinnati to an 80-58 victory over Charlotte.
Cincinnati (15-2, 4-1 Conference USA) rebounded from a three-point loss to Louisville on Saturday, when the Bearcats blew a 17-point lead because of poor rebounding and free-throw shooting.
This time, they had to overcome horrible shooting. Cincinnati made only 26 percent in the first half, when Williams missed four of his five shots from behind the arc.
“I was just trying to find my rhythm,” said Williams, who set his previous career high with 18 points in the loss to Louisville. “I knew I was going to make shots. I had confidence. I was just being a little too passive. I tried to shoot it with a little more confidence.”
The senior guard didn’t hesitate when he got the ball in the second half, going 5-of-5 from beyond the arc while Cincinnati overcame a four-point deficit. Once he started hitting, Charlotte (12-3, 3-1) was forced to come out of its zone defense and try to match up against a more physical team.
“The defense in the first half worked for us,” said Brendan Plavich, who led Charlotte with 22 points. “In the second half, they made us come out and get out of the zone. They just basically took it to us in the second half.”
Charlotte had won nine in a row, its longest winning streak in 14 years, and was undefeated in six road games. The 49ers couldn’t keep it going once Williams got rolling. Jason Maxiell had 23 points, and Eric Hicks had 13 rebounds for Cincinnati.
“If they make them from the perimeter like that, for us they become impossible to guard,” Charlotte coach Bobby Lutz said. “Nick Williams was a huge part of their win, as was Maxiell. Once they got going, we couldn’t stop them.”
Charlotte shot only 29.5 percent from the field against one of the nation’s toughest defenses, struggling with point guard Mitchell Baldwin on the bench because of a shoulder injury sustained last weekend.
“We couldn’t get into our offense,” Plavich said. “They pressured us to the halfcourt line. We couldn’t get anything going.”
Cincinnati came out flat and unfocused, prompting Huggins to call a timeout only 2:06 into the game. He spent the entire 30 seconds screaming at his players.
It didn’t work. Both Huggins and Lutz repeatedly winced as their teams missed one shot after another.
With 7:45 left in the first half, the score was tied at 14 and both teams had awful shooting percentages—Cincinnati was 4-of-19 with seven turnovers, Charlotte 5-of-18 with six turnovers.
E.J. Drayton had a pair of free throws and a basket, and Plavich hit a 3 in a seven-point spurt that put Charlotte up 28-22 late in the half.
Fans booed the Bearcats off the court at halftime after they set up a play, then threw the ball away for their 10th turnover. Cincinnati got wide-open shots against Charlotte’s zone and man-to-man, but went only 4-of-17 from behind the arc in the half.
Williams hit four 3s during a game-turning 13-2 spurt that put Cincinnati ahead to stay, 41-33. Williams fixed a hitch in his shot last week and made six 3-pointers against Louisville.
“It makes you want to keep finding ways to get him the ball, especially when everybody else is in a shooting slump,” said James White, who had six assists.
Maxiell had a steal and dunk, then a pair of pull-up jumpers that made it 49-36 midway through the second half. Cincinnati was in control the rest of the way, pulling away in the closing minutes.