CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Behind balance scoring, the Charlotte 49ers (17-4, A-10: 5-2) defeated the Massachusetts Minutemen (14-6, A-10: 4-3) in front a of sold out homecoming crowd in Halton Arena.
"It was a great team win," Charlotte coach Alan Major said. "I mean TEAM in capital letters. Everyone stepped up and contributed on a day when we honored former 49ers greats. I could not be prouder or our team."
The 49ers were led by E. Victor Nickerson who finished with 12 points just one point shy of his career-high. Nickerson, who got his first start in Atlantic 10 play, was 5-for-11 from the field. He also finished with five rebounds.
Ivan Benkovic finished with a career-high 10 points and hit three 3-pointers off the bench. Chris Braswell finished with nine points off the bench as Willie Clayton and Terrence Williams recorded eight.
Charlotte performance on Saturday included a well-balanced offense in which nine different players scored points. The 49ers' defense was just as impressive with 11 steals, 19 forced turnovers, and a 37-32 advantage on the glass.
The Niner bench outscored the Minutemen 32-9.
Fans weren't disappointed as both teams put on a thrilling performance especially in the final minutes of the game. The Niners led 63-60 at the 2:40 mark but the Minuteman didn't go away easily as Terrell Vinson, who scored 23 points, hit a 3-pointer to tie the game 63-63 with 2:13 left. Nickerson used two free throws to push Charlotte to a 65-63 lead at the 1:16 mark. Clayton hit one of his two free throws with 33 seconds remaining and Massachusetts' Chaz Williams, who scored 16 points, drove to the basket with 18 seconds left for a layup, slicing the 49ers lead to 66-65.
The 49ers were not able to convert on two free throws. Massachusetts had the last possession of the game but Charlotte's Henry stole the ball from Williams with three seconds left in the game sealing the 49ers victory.
After trailing the Minutemen for most of the first half, the Niners used a late run to take the 34-31 lead at halftime. The half featured seven ties but the 49ers took the first half lead for good with 1:54 left following a pair of free throws from Williams to taking a 30-28 lead, its first lead since the 11:45 mark. A Minuteman turnover led to Nickerson scoring two points off a fastbreak but UMass responded with a three-pointer to slice Charlotte's lead to 32-31. Nickerson closed out the half with a mid-range jumper with 22 seconds left. In the first half, Charlotte's bench outscored UMass 21-0 and took an 18-12 advantage of points in the paint.
Charlotte began the second half on a 6-2 run and took a 40-33 lead after a Nickerson jumper with 16:54 left. Clayton lifted the Niners to their largest lead of the game, 43-35 after converting a layup into a three-point play at the 15:21 mark. UMass evened the score for the eighth time, 44-44, with a 3-pointer by Chaz Williams at the 12 minute mark. Benkovic quickly answered with his second three-pointer of the game from the corner giving the 49ers a 47-44 lead with 11:40 remaining. Another Benkovic three pushed the 49ers lead to 50-44 with 10:48 on the clock.
Before the game, former Charlotte basketball players participated in the annual Alumni Homecoming Game. At halftime the former players were honored and recognized in a ceremony at half court.
Charlotte travels to Temple on Wednesday, Feb. 6 for an A-10 contest at 7 p.m.
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