Charlotte holds on against Tulsa to advance to the MBI championship game

CONWAY, SC (Nov. 18, 2022) – After sinking five 3-pointers and scoring 19 points in the second half, Tulsa guard Sam Griffin lined up for a potential game-tying trey at the buzzer to force overtime against the Charlotte 49ers.

Charlotte 6-foot-10 forward Igor Milicic Jr. looked to his left, saw what was happening, and managed to get just enough of his fingers on the ball to knock it off line and preserve a 68-65 victory for the 49ers in Friday’s second round of the Myrtle Beach Invitation.

When asked about the play afterward, Milicic nonchalantly said, “I saw he was wide open. I knew he was going to shoot it, so I just went for it and blocked it. That’s it. No big deal.”

Actually, it was a big enough deal that it sent Charlotte (4-0) into the tournament championship game. The 49ers will play UMass on Sunday for the Myrtle Beach Invitational title, which is why Charlotte coach Ron Sanchez had to disagree with Milicic’s assessment.

“It’s a really big deal,” Sanchez said with a smile. “Just his awareness on that play. That’s a play that a guy of his length and size makes. Really glad he was able to recognize it and make it.”

For much of the game, it didn’t appear that the 49ers would need any last-second heroics, as they controlled the first half and led 40-27 at halftime.

“We knew coming in that having a one-morning prep (for the game), we were going to be very challenged to guard Charlotte,” said Tulsa coach Eric Konkol, whose team played in the final game on Thursday and had barely 18 hours before Friday’s tip. “It took us the first half to figure out how to have a real plan on guarding them.”

But Tulsa’s defense improved in the second half, and then Griffin began single-handedly outscoring the 49ers. From the 17:08 mark of the half until 10:53, Griffin scored 19 points, while Charlotte managed just nine, allowing the Golden Hurricane (2-2) to close the gap to 51-49.

“Sam is a special scorer,” Konkol said. “We got in a much better rhythm in the second half against Charlotte’s pack defense, creating some action. We also got stops on defense, and Sam got some of those 3s in transition.”

Sanchez said that is when Charlotte guard Montre Gipson volunteered to guard Griffin and try to slow him down. Instead, Gipson shut him down, as Griffin did not score again the rest of the game, finishing with 21 points.

“We knew how talented he is,” Sanchez said of Griffin. “He can make difficult and contested shots. It was a challenge to see who was going to guard him and make it really difficult on him. (Gipson) stepped up and said he’d like to take on that challenge, and he did a really good job.”

With help at the end from a big-deal block by Milicic.