CLEMSON, S.C. (AP)—Trevor Booker knew No. 18 Clemson had let last week’s loss to top-ranked North Carolina cost the Tigers again, this time in an 82-72 loss to Charlotte on Wednesday night.
Right after the Tar Heels’ 90-88 overtime victory at Littlejohn Coliseum on Sunday night, the Clemson coaches told the players that their next opponent was ready to beat them “because we were mentally soft after the North Carolina game,” Booker said. “That’s what they did.”
Leemire Goldwire had his first career double-double with 21 points and 10 rebounds to lead the 49ers to their first victory over a ranked opponent in nearly three years.
“I don’t think we could’ve faced them at a better time,” Charlotte coach Bobby Lutz said. “But give us credit. We had to do the work.”
That’s what the 49ers did, closing both halves with a 13-3 run. The first one turned Charlotte’s one-point lead into a 41-30 halftime advantage. The second came after Charlotte (9-5) had lost all of its 12-point lead as Clemson (12-3) tied the game at 69.
After Charles Dewhurst hit the go-ahead foul shot, Goldwire hit his third 3-pointer off a stepback move with freshman Demontez Stitt defending with 3:43 left. That seemed to deflate the Tigers.
“It’s one of my moves I use,” said Goldwire, a senior. “I knew as long as I held the follow through, it was going in.”
The 49ers hadn’t beaten a Top 25 team since defeating No. 18 Cincinnati 91-90 on Feb. 5, 2005.
Maybe it was coming so close against the Tar Heels. Or maybe it was the nonconference opponent in Charlotte, but the Tigers did not have the same flash they showed a few days earlier.
“Apparently so,” Clemson coach Oliver Purnell admitted glumly.
Clemson star James Mays played with a heavily taped left wrist, which he fractured in pregame drills Sunday night. He was 3-of-8 from the field and had six points, half his average.
Also off was leading scorer K.C. Rivers, who finished 3-of-10 for six points, well below his 16-point a game average.
The exception was Booker, the sophomore forward who led Clemson with a career-high 32 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.
The 49ers appeared to have the game in hand when Dewhurst’s driving basket putting them ahead 49-37 with 16:22 to go.
Clemson scratched back and tied things at 69 on Rivers’ soft jumper with 4:23 left.
The rally seemed to tire out the Tigers, though, who took quick outside shots instead of going inside where Booker was dominant.
“We took ourselves out of it,” Purnell said.
The 49ers took advantage.
The Charlotte fans who made the trip to Littlejohn Coliseum broke into an “overrated” chant as the final seconds ticked off.
Charlotte heads into Atlantic 10 play with a 2-2 mark against the Atlantic Coast Conference. The 49ers beat Wake Forest and lost to Georgia Tech and Maryland.
The Tigers had hoped to build off the defeat to North Carolina but they could not get going in the first half, routinely getting beat to the basket by Charlotte.
Booker had 20 of the Tigers’ 30 first-half points. Booker was 6-of-7 from the field while the rest of the team was 5-of-20.
“They outhustled us, outscrapped us, outplayed us and beat us,” Purnell said.
Charlotte led 28-19 after An’Juan Wilderness was left all alone near the basket, causing Purnell to call a timeout.
The break seemed to inspire the Tigers, who scored the next eight points to make it 28-27 with 3:41 left. The 49ers then went on the first of the 13-3 runs.