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St. Louis 72, Charlotte 55

The SportsXchange

NEW YORK -- Charlotte certainly showed it could score points at a sudden, improbable -- and bizarre -- rate at the end of its Atlantic 10 first-round win over Richmond. But it was an early scoring spree by top-seeded St. Louis that left the ninth-seeded 49ers shaking their heads Friday after the Billikens' 72-55 win in the quarterfinals.

Dwayne Evans led No. 16 St. Louis with 25 points and nine rebounds in the victory at the Barclays Center, and Cody Ellis added 13 points. But Billikens guard Mike McCall Jr. gave Charlotte an early glimpse of the stunned feeling the 49ers left Richmond with at the end of Thursday's game by sparking a 13-0 surge in just over two minutes in the first half that gave St. Louis control of the game.

Chris Braswell had 20 points and 10 rebounds to lead Charlotte (21-11, 8-9). Pierra Henry, who scored eight points on free throws Thursday after Richmond was called for three technicals in the final chaotic moments, left Friday's game with just under four minutes left because of an injury.

With 3:48 to play, Henry remained on the floor for a few moments, appearing to struggle to catch his breath while lying on his back after colliding with the Billikens' Jordair Jett. After getting helped off the court, Henry exited to the locker room after having scored nine points and grabbed eight rebounds.

The 49ers had just cut an 11-point deficit to three midway through the first half, pulling to 19-16 on Braswell's 3-pointer. Charlotte hoped to challenge the favored Billikens long enough to pull off another crazy ending like it had against Richmond, when the 49ers wiped out a three-point deficit in the final seconds.

But then McCall scored seven points and had two assists to lead a 13-0 surge that put St. Louis up 32-16. The Billikens never relinquished control of the game from that point, and will face the Butler-La Salle winner Saturday at 1:30 p.m.

The spurt by the Billikens (25-6, 14-3) wasn't nearly as wild as the 49ers' free-throw frenzy to beat Richmond in the first round, but it was nearly as effective at sealing this game, even though it occurred with plenty of time left in the first half.

Charlotte never fully recovered against a St. Louis team that has seen coach Jim Crews win national coach of the year honors from The Sporting News after leading the Billikens to their first outright regular-season title since 1957.

Trailing by 11 at halftime, Charlotte did get within seven, when Braswell hit a 3-pointer to make it 43-36 with 13:05 left in the second half.

But St. Louis reeled off the next 10 points, with Evans scoring six of them, including a jumper with 9:20 left that put the Billikens up 52-36.

St. Louis entered halftime up 39-28, thanks mostly to the 13-0 spurt it put up seemingly in a blink midway through the first half to go up 32-16 with 8:43 left before halftime.

McCall hit a 3, then drove for another basket. He followed by hitting Kwamain Mitchell for another 3. Hit another layup. Missed one, then burst in for the rebound, working the ball around until he found Rob Loe for yet another 3-pointer.

That gave the Billikens their 16-point lead just more than two minutes after Braswell had given Charlotte hope when his 3-pointer capped an 11-2 spurt for the 49ers.

The 49ers cut the deficit to 36-28 with a 12-4 spurt after the Billikens' run, but St. Louis scored the last three points before the half to go up 39-28.

NOTES: Henry entered the game with three straight double-doubles for the 49ers but was held in check, especially in the first half, when he scored just four points and had three rebounds. ... The Billikens, who have been ranked for the past three weeks, have earned a national ranking in consecutive weeks for the first time since the 1993-94 season. ... St. Louis handily beat both fourth-seeded La Salle and fifth-seeded Butler this season, with both games at home for the Billikens. St. Louis topped the Explorers 78-54 in the regular-season finale and beat then-No. 9 Butler 75-58 on Jan. 31.
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