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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – No. 8 seed Eastern Kentucky University cut a 20-point deficit with 11 minutes left in the game down to just one point, and had two shots to force overtime for the fourth straight game, but fell 71-68 to No. 3 seed University of North Carolina at Charlotte in the 2023 Discount Tire College Basketball Invitational (CBI) championship game on Wednesday.
Montre Gipson’s 3-pointer with 12:14 to play capped an 11-2 run for Charlotte and gave the 49ers a 58-38 lead. Freshman Turner Buttry’s 3-pointer at the 10:47 mark began a game-changing 13-0 run for the Colonels (23-14).
Isaiah Cozart capped the run with a pair of buckets, the second made it a seven-point game, 58-51, with 7:23 to play.
The two teams then alternated baskets for the next four and a half minutes. Michael Moreno answered a Charlotte 3-pointer with one of his own to keep the margin at seven, 63-56. Cooper Robb and Buttry did the same, following 49er 3-pointers with deep baskets of their own. Buttry’s trey with 2:51 showing on the clock made it a seven-point game for the fourth time.
This time EKU got a defensive stop and Cozart made two free throws to draw his team within five, 69-64, with 2:01 to go. The Colonels forced a turnover on the other end and Tayshawn Comer made one of two at the stripe with 1:18 remaining. Robb had a steal and then buried a 3-pointer from the right wing with 51 seconds left in regulation to make it a one-point game, 69-68.
A lay-up by Isaiah Folkes pushed the Charlotte lead to three with 18 seconds showing on the clock. After a time out, Robb had an attempt to tie the game blocked, but Cozart grabbed the ball and dished it to Comer on the left wing. The freshman’s long 3-point attempt just missed as the horn sounded.
In his final game as a Colonel, Robb hit five 3-pointers and led the team with 17 points to go along with three rebounds and two steals. Moreno hit four 3-pointers, finishing with 14 points and a team-best seven rebounds. Cozart had 10 points and four boards. Buttry hit 3-of-4 from long range and finished with nine.
Aly Khalifa scored 20 points for Charlotte (22-14).
With the game tied at 5-5 early, the 49ers scored 13 unanswered as the Colonels suffered the first to two extended first half scoring droughts. EKU went nearly seven minutes without scoring before a 3-pointer from the right corner by Robb made it a 10-point game, 18-8, with 11:41 left in the first half.
A second Colonel scoring drought, this time lasting more than two minutes, allowed Charlotte to stretch its lead from 10 to 16, 26-10. The 49ers moved out in front by 21 twice, the second coming on a jumper from Gipson with 2:23 before the half. EKU ended the half on a 7-4 run to cut the deficit to 18 at intermission, 42-24.
Robb started the second half with a 3-pointer, keying a 10-3 run to begin the second stanza. The senior capped it with another triple with 17:15 on the clock to cut what had been a 21-point deficit to 11, 45-34.
The Colonels got within 11 again, 47-36, on a jumper from Moreno with 16:06 remaining. However, the 49ers responded with their 11-2 run to go back in front by 20, 58-38.
EKU shot 46 percent for the game from the field and 40 percent (12-of-30) from 3-point range. Charlotte hit 64 percent of its attempts from the field, including 10-of-22 from deep (46 percent). .
The Colonels entered the game 48th in the NCAA in turnovers forced per game, and the 49ers were 27th in the nation in fewest turnovers per game. Ironically, both teams ended the game with 10 turnovers.