Charlotte overpowers Northeastern in 86-77 win
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — For the second year in a row, coach Alan Major has been pleasantly surprised by how his team has played in the early part of the season.
Now for the second straight year his team will play for a championship in an early-season tournament.
Shawn Lester had 20 points and Ben Cherry added 18 as Charlotte overpowered Northeastern in the final 10 minutes to preserve an 86-77 victory in the semifinals of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.
The win was the 49ers third straight and sets up a championship game matchup with the winner of Florida State and Michigan on Sunday. The 49ers won the Great Alaska Shootout last season.
“Another hard fought game,” Major said. “We talked about it about how the farther you get away from the home, the closer you gotta stay together as a team. And these guys have really bought into that.”
Charlotte (4-1) led by nine at halftime, but had to stave off a flurry by Northeastern, which tied it back up with less than 10 minutes to play in the game.
The Huskies went cold for a spell from both the foul line and the field, though, and were never able to take the lead back as the 49ers knocked down their free-throws in the closing minutes.
For the game Charlotte connected on 22 of 28 of its attempts at the foul line.
Cherry, a transfer from Tulane, said it’s clear there are people on his team that know how to close out games.
“The guys that are already here are really experienced, and being able to come into the mix with guys that have won big games before is definitely important,” he said. “The cool thing is there was a different lineup that finished the game (Thursday), and today we went a little bit smaller and were able to get five stops in a row.
“It’s a big confidence boost and we need to finish games like that.”
Northeastern’s Scott Eatherton had 22 points and 11 rebounds to post his second straight double-double of the tournament. Demetrius Pollard added 14 points.
Trailing by nine at the half, Northeastern (2-3) kept chipping away at the lead and ran off an 8-0 spurt to tie it 51 at the 12:27 mark.
It was tied again at 58, but Eatherton came up empty on a pair of free-throw attempts.
The Huskies had several more opportunities to take the lead, but squandered each of them with missed baskets or turnovers.
It also didn’t help that Northeastern was just 18 for 30 from the free throw line.
Meanwhile, Charlotte settled down in its half court attack.
The 49ers got a little breathing room on a 3-pointer by Terrence Williams that made it 65-58, and he scored again a few trips later to push it to 69-60 with only 4:22 showing on the clock.
“Unfortunately our zone wasn’t as effect today as it was yesterday,” Northeastern coach Bill Coen said. “We allowed them to get off to a hot start and it forced us out of our zone...I think the story of the second half was that we just left too many points on the free-throw line.
“At that point we were just a little too tired to make a run.”
Charlotte led 43-34 at halftime, thanks largely to its accuracy from beyond the arc. The 49ers connected on 8 of their 14 attempts and led by as many as 13 points. Cherry had the hottest hand, with six 3s and 18 points in the opening 20 minutes.
They also had 10 assists and defensively made it tough for the Huskies, who shot 35 percent from the field in the half.
Major said his team is excited for Sunday, whoever it faces.
“The best thing we can do as coaches is just lead the horses to water and then let them drink,” he said. “We’ve just tried to be tough — that’s been our watchword this year...But either way we’ve got a war on our hands.”
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