Xavier falls to Charlotte in third straight road loss

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Xavier's latest loss in its puzzling slide left coach Sean Miller fuming and Charlotte celebrating like old times.

Able to corral its young but raw talent and finally getting top scorer Lamont Mack hot late in the game, the 49ers stunned Xavier (No. 17 ESPN/USA Today, No. 16 AP) 65-60 on Thursday, dropping the struggling Musketeers to second place in the Atlantic 10.

On a night the 49ers retired the jersey of 2005 Conference USA player of the year Eddie Basden, the 49ers (10-15, 4-7) played like the teams that used to contend in that competitive league before realignment, leaving their suffering fans pouring onto the court for a confetti-dropping party.

"This team, I've said it all year, has never quit and never stopped believing, despite all the injuries and adversity that we've had," coach Bobby Lutz said. "It's amazing how hard they work and how much they believe that we can beat anybody we play.

"We also know that we've got a fine margin for error," he said.

It's why they needed the five 3-pointers and 16 points from Ian Andersen and why the tide turned when Mack got out of his funk, scoring all 12 points in the final eight minutes, including a 3-pointer with 31 seconds left to put Charlotte ahead 62-58.

C.J. Anderson had 13 points and seven rebounds for the Musketeers (21-5, 9-3), who got only nine points from senior B.J. Raymond in their third straight road loss.

Upset with confusion over who should go first in the postgame news conference, Miller declined to come to the podium and released a brief statement after his team slipped a half-game behind Dayton in the A-10.

"They're playing their best basketball of the season right now," Miller said of Charlotte. "We are not playing well right now. We need to fix some things and it needs to start with practice tomorrow."

Xavier, which has had two stints in the top 10, may fall out of the rankings as it continued its funk that's included losses to Dayton and Duquesne.

In a back-and-forth game with 24 lead changes and 17 ties, Mack scored six consecutive points to put Charlotte ahead 56-53. A minute later Andersen hit an off-balance 3 from the right wing to give Charlotte a 59-55 lead with 2:21 left.

Xavier got within 59-58 on Anderson's driving layup with 49 seconds left before Mack's 3 sent the Halton Arena crowd into a frenzy.

An'Juan Wilderness, who scored 15 points, iced it by going 3-for-4 from the foul line in the final 11 seconds.

"It was great. I love the atmosphere," Wilderness said. "I can't even put it into words right now."

Xavier cruised to a 22-point home win over Charlotte last month behind a 20-rebound advantage. But the 49ers were without Wilderness, who was since returned from a stress fracture in his foot.

Despite its poor record, the athletic if not polished 49ers entered having won four of their past five home games, including a win over now-No. 25 Dayton just before the Flyers knocked off Xavier.

And while Xavier controlled the inside, it struggled to keep up with Charlotte's frenzied pace behind point guard DiJuan Harris.

The 5-foot-9 Harris, Charlotte's only true point guard after Michael Gerrity quit the team before the season, constantly tried to push the pace against Xavier, whose halfcourt defense and rebounding were far superior.

Harris, sporting a new Mohawk haircut, fed Andersen in transition for a 3 that put the 49ers ahead 44-41 with 9:55 left. It was one of Harris' 10 assists while he played all 40 minutes.

The stars for both teams were non-factors for nearly three-quarters of the game. Mack, averaging 14.8 points, spent most of the first half on the bench.

Xavier's Raymond didn't get his first field goal until he made a 3 with 12:08 left to put the Musketeers ahead 41-39. He then hit another jumper and banked in a leaner and hit the ensuing free throw for a three-point play with 6:31 left to put Xavier ahead 51-48.

Mack responded with his first field goal on a drive to the basket and then got hot when Charlotte needed him most.

"I'm not happy with our record," Lutz said after celebrating on the court with the students. "But I've never been prouder of a group of guys."