CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP)—With his shoulders slumped and his voice thick with disappointment, Bob Huggins looked like the one man at Halton Arena glad to see the series between Cincinnati and Charlotte come to an end.
Despite being the most dominating team in Conference USA history, the 18th-ranked Bearcats have always struggled with Charlotte. So it was fitting that the final regular-season meeting between the two rivals came down to a final shot at the buzzer.
Cincinnati missed it and Charlotte came away with a 91-90 upset over the Bearcats.
Peppered with questions about the future of the series—Cincinnati heads to the Big East next year while Charlotte goes to the Atlantic 10—and the Bearcats’ upcoming schedule, Huggins let out a long sigh.
“Is it all right if I just feel bad about this one for a while?” he asked.
Brendan Plavich scored all but two of his 26 points on 3-pointers to lead Charlotte.
The streak shooter made 8-of-17 3-pointers to lead the 49ers (15-4, 6-2 C-USA) in scoring. But his miss with under a minute to play and the game tied at 89 made it tight for Charlotte.
Curtis Withers got the rebound off of Plavich’s miss and was fouled by Nick Williams. Withers made both his free throws to give Charlotte a 91-89 lead.
Before the Bearcats (17-5, 6-3) could even run a play, Eric Hicks was fouled under the basket and sent to the line with a chance to tie it. But Hicks made just one of his free throws.
Mitchell Baldwin missed for Charlotte, giving Cincinnati one last chance to win the game. The Bearcats took a timeout, and inbounded the ball with 13.8 seconds to play. The ball ended up in Armein Kirkland’s hands and his jumper fell short at the buzzer.
Asked if that was the way the play was designed, Huggins took a moment to answer.
“No,” he said before a long pause. “We were trying to throw it inside.”
But Charlotte had tightened up its defense on Hicks and Jason Maxiell, preventing the Bearcats from getting under the basket.
“We didn’t want Hicks or Maxiell to get it low,” Charlotte coach Bobby Lutz said. “If we could stop them, we knew we had a chance.”
Eddie Basden finished with 20 points, 11 rebounds and four steals for Charlotte. His four steals gave him 231 for his career, tying the conference record.
“Eddie Basden dominated the game,” Huggins said.
Withers finished with 15 points and Baldwin and E.J. Drayton scored 10 each. The 49ers were 25-for-28 at the free throw line.
Hicks led Cincinnati with 20 points, James White had 18, Maxiell scored 17, Williams had 15 and Jihad Muhammad had 10 as Cincinnati fell to 14-8 against Charlotte.
“The matchup has been a lot better for us than it has been for Cincinnati,” Lutz said. “We’d love to see it continue. I don’t know what we’re going to do without Cincinnati.
“All you people who hate them need to understand they bring out the best in our team.”
Students camped out for tickets, filling 9,105-seat Halton Arena and taunting Huggins from the moment he walked out onto the court. They even went a little too far five minutes into the game when Lutz was hit with a technical for arguing a call against the 49ers.
As the officials stood on the court during the ensuing timeout, a fan threw a fluorescent green football at the referee who called the technical. It grazed the back of his legs, he shrugged it off, and things seemed to calm down from there.
Cincinnati fell behind by eight midway through the second half as Charlotte used a barrage of 3-pointers to build a 71-63 lead. But the Bearcats pulled back into it behind Maxiell, who scored six straight points and had a steal to put Cincinnati up 75-74.
But the Bearcats couldn’t stretch it and quickly found themselves trailing 88-83 after Williams fouled Basden on a 3-point attempt. He made all his free throws as Huggins launched a verbal tirade in Williams’ direction.
Back-to-back 3s from Kirkland and White tied it up again at 89 with 1:52 to play.