NEW YORK Trailing Richmond by three points with 4.7 seconds remaining in the first round of the Atlantic 10 tournament Thursday, the Charlotte 49ers needed something unlikely to happen.
“Unlikely” is what happened, but that doesn’t begin to describe it.
The 49ers took advantage of three late technical fouls against the Spiders and some deadeye free-throw shooting from point guard Pierria Henry. They scored eight points in those final seconds and came away with a 68-63 victory at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.
The victory moved the ninth-seeded 49ers (21-10) into a quarterfinal game Friday at noon against top seed and 16 th-ranked Saint Louis (24-6).
The 49ers rallied from a 10-point deficit in the second half, but had seemingly come up short after the eighth-seeded Spiders (18-14) took a 63-60 lead with 5.9 seconds left on a pair of free throws by guard Cedrick Lindsay.
That’s when things got crazy.
Before he could get off a potential game-tying 3-pointer, Henry – who would finish with a career-high 28 points – was fouled with 4.7 seconds left.
He made the first free throw, cutting the lead to 63-61. But as the ball went through the net, Richmond forward Derrick Williams inexplicably threw Charlotte forward Willie Clayton to the floor.
Williams was called for a dead-ball technical. So after taking and making his second free throw, Henry made the two technicals, giving the 49ers a 64-63 lead and the ball.
Henry then received the inbounds pass at midcourt. He anticipated being fouled by Richmond and threw up a shot. The Spiders’ Greg Robbins was whistled for the foul, a call protested vehemently by Richmond coach Chris Mooney, who was called for two technicals and ejected.
With 2.8 seconds left, Henry went back to the line. He shot seven more free throws – three for the 3-point foul, four on Mooney’s technicals – and made four.
“I felt like I was up there for 30 minutes,” said Henry, who made eight of 11 free throws during the stretch.
“I didn’t see what was going on. But then I saw Willie go flying. I let the refs handle the rest.”
The victory – Charlotte’s first in the postseason since 2008 – was the 49ers’ third straight and came after the Spiders beat them by 20 points in a regular-season game Jan. 19.
Richmond opened Thursday’s game the same way they finished out the win in January, making one 3-pointer after another. Richmond led 31-23 at halftime, going five of 12 from long range.
The Spiders increased the lead to 10 with 18 minutes, 23 seconds left on a 3-pointer by Williams. That margin, coupled with some Charlotte foul trouble, looked convincing enough.
But the 49ers finally began to make some open shots under the basket, where they had a size advantage. Clayton (18 points) and Chris Braswell (12 points) helped the 49ers get back in it. They went ahead for the first time, 37-35, on a tip-in by Braswell with 12:36 left.
The game stayed close the rest of the way until it appeared the Spiders had things under control with a three-point lead and less than five seconds left.
“At that point, we’d wanted to foul so they couldn’t make a game-tying 3,” said Mooney, whose team was led by Lindsay’s 19 points. “We thought we executed that well.”
Not only did Henry earn a career high in points (8-of-14 shooting from the field, 12 of 15 from the line) but he also had a career-best 12 rebounds. It was the third straight game in which the 6-foot-4 point guard rebounded in double figures.
Charlotte outrebounded Richmond 43-22 overall and outscored the Spiders 44-16 in the paint and 21-3 on second-chance points.
The 49ers will now face a Saint Louis team that beat them by 18 points (78-56) in February during a stretch in which Charlotte lost six of seven games.
Charlotte has won twice in its last three games after trailing by at least 10 points in the second half.
“You couldn’t make that one up,” 49ers coach Alan Major said of his team’s escape Thursday.
“Even if you wanted to make a movie out of (it).”
Video and photos at CharlotteObserver.com