Ben Cherry and Shawn Lester weren’t about to let the FIU Panthers leave Halton Arena with a victory over the Charlotte 49ers. The defense came through in a big way as well.
Cherry and Lester combined to go 8-12 from beyond the arc as Charlotte pulled away with a 14-0 run spanning two halves, holding on to win 73-61.
“Once I hit the first two, I definitely felt like it was going to be a big night,” said Cherry, who hit 5 of 6 threes and scored 17 points for the game.
Things looked dicey early as FIU (1-11, 3-4 C-USA) was able to get to the net with ease and pick up uncontested rebounds as Charlotte struggled in those departments. But despite being outrebounded 22-18 in the first half (10-4 on the offensive glass), Charlotte (14-7, 5-3 C-USA) was paced by 5-8 shooting from three (3-4 by Ben Cherry and 2-3 from Shawn Lester). The Niners’ D, meanwhile, held FIU off the board for the final 5:38 of the half, allowing just two field goals in the final 6:47 while putting together a 8-0 run to end the opening stanza.
The second half started out on the Niners’ side as Cherry stretched the lead to 36-21 with back-to-back 3′s before Buckles ended the 14-0 run with a layup. Charlotte would gradually stretch the lead to as much as 20 and held the Panthers at arm’s length throughout. FIU would get within 10, 67-57, with 2:25 left, but no closer as the Niners wrapped up a home sweep of the Florida teams with former Niner great Cedric “Cornbread” Maxwell looking on this evening.
“Cornbread Maxwell came in and talked to us before the game today,” Cherry said. “(His message to us was to) erase everything you’ve done; erase Puerto Rico; it’s what you did the last game and what you’re going to do the next game.”
They’ll more than take it, despite being outrebounded 42-33 (21-10 on the offensive glass) and being outscored in the paint 40-26, but holding the Panthers to 38.5% shooting.
“They’re an athletic bunch–I don’t want to take anything from them,” said coach Alan Major. “Obviously we would like to rebound the ball better…(but) to have two straight games where we’ve held our opponents to 38% is something that we’re really happy about.”
Five Niners scored in double figures, led by Cherry’s 17 on 5-6 shooting from three point range. Lester was 3-6 from three, part of his 13 points. Willie Clayton chipped in 13 points but fell a rebound short of a double-double.
Rakeem Buckles scored 18 of his 20 points in the second half to lead all scorers, adding 10 rebounds. Tymell Murphy, the team’s leading scorer, was held to 11.