DAYTON, Ohio (Ticker) -- Charlotte won a first-round NCAA Tournament game for the fourth time in five years. This one came at the expense of disappointing Tennessee.
Jobey Thomas and Diego Guevara highlighted a decisive 14-3 second-half run with 3-pointers and the 49ers posted a 70-63 victory over Tennessee in the Midwest Region at the University of Dayton Arena.
Charlotte (22-10), the Conference USA tournament champion, will meet top-seeded Illinois in the second round on Sunday. The 49ers previously won first-round games in 1997, 1998 and 1999, but lost in the second round each time.
"We're happy to win this one. Tennessee is a very talented team," said Charlotte coach Bobby Lutz. "We really picked up our defense in the second half and we needed to because we certainly didn't shoot that well." Tennessee (22-11) sagged down the stretch, losing eight of its last 13 games in the Southeastern Conference. On Friday, the Volunteers self-destructed, missing 11-of-18 free-throw attempts, including 6-of-7 in the second half.
"Our free-throw shooting really hurt us," said Tennessee coach Jerry Green. "We had our chances, we just didn't take advantage of them." The Volunteers held a 47-45 lead after a steal and layup by Jon Higgins with 14:25 left. But freshman Rodney White, who finished with 12 points, hit a jumper in the lane to tie the game and ignite the decisive run for the 49ers.
Thomas followed with a 3-pointer at the top of the key to give Charlotte the lead for good at 50-47 with 13:16 left after Ron Slay missed a pair of free throws for Tennessee.
Butter Johnson hit a short jumper to increase the advantage to 52-47, but Higgins connected on a 3-pointer for Tennessee with 9:18 left.
Johnson and White scored inside and Guevara capped the run with a 3-pointer, opening a 59-50 lead with 6:58 remaining.
Tennessee scored the next six points as Vincent Yarbrough scored on a layup and a dunk and Marcus Haislip hit a follow shot, pulling the Volunteers within 59-56 with 5:09 left.
A 3-pointer by White opened Charlotte's lead back to six at 64-58 with just under four minutes left.
Tony Harris hit a floater in the lane for only his second basket of the game for Tennessee with 2:56 remaining and the Volunteers had a chance to cut the deficit to two, but Slay missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 2:32 left. Slay was 2-of-7 from the line.
Thomas hit a running bank shot in the lane for Charlotte with 2:03 remaining. After Isiah Victor scored inside for Tennessee, Yarbrough hit 1-of-2 free throws to again pull the Volunteers within 66-63.
Tennessee had a chance to tie, but Harris threw up a 3-pointer from beyond the left of the key which went off the side of the backboard with 33 seconds left.
Thomas sealed the win with four free throws in the final 25 seconds.
"Diego and myself didn't shoot well, but we were able to hold their guards down," Thomas said.
Thomas finished with 12 points, but was just 3-of-9 from the field. Guevara had eight points, but missed 7-of-9 shots and 5-of-6 3-pointers.
Along with the horrid free-throw shooting, Tennessee shot just 31 percent (9-of-29) from the field in the second half.
The Volunteers upheld their reputation of talented underachievers with the first-round loss and Harris again faltered in NCAA Tournament play. Perhaps it was a fitting end to the senior guard's college career.
Last season, Tennessee advanced to the "Sweet 16" before falling to North Carolina and returned all of its key players. But Harris was just 7-of-35 from the field in last year's three NCAA Tournament games and was virtually a non-factor on Friday, hitting 2-of-4 shots for four points with no assists.
Yarbrough led Tennessee with 12 points and 10 rebounds and Haislip added 10 off the bench.
The Volunteers raced to a 16-8 lead in the first seven minutes, but Demon Brown hit back-to-back 3-pointers to pull Charlotte within two.
Tennessee matched its biggest lead at 26-18 after a 3-pointer by Haislip with 8:28 left in the half.
But Charlotte responded with a 15-6 run and took its first lead at 33-32 after a pair of free throws by White with 4:04 remaining in the half.
Terrence Woods connected on a 3-pointer to give Tennessee a 43-41 lead, but Cam Stephens ended the half with a dunk to tie the game at 43-43.