CINCINNATI (Ticker) -- Brendan Plavich and Charlotte apparently save their best for the seventh-ranked team in the country.
Plavich nailed five 3-pointers and scored 17 points as the 49ers won at seventh-ranked Cincinnati for the first time in 10 meetings with a surprising 86-83 Conference USA triumph.
Charlotte (13-5, 5-2 C-USA) made its mark on the national scene with a 96-92 victory on November 26 at Syracuse, ranked seventh at the time. Plavich drilled a school-record 10 3-pointers and poured in 31 points against the defending national champions.
The 49ers needed the Vanderbilt transfer's outside skills in a game that featured 14 lead changes and six ties. Freshman Martin Iti's three-point play gave Charlotte the lead for good at 82-79 with 2:10 left.
Plavich made 1-of-2 at the line for an 86-83 lead with seven seconds remaining, leaving the door open for Cincinnati (15-2, 6-2). Nick Williams raced upcourt and hurried a 3-pointer that banged off the back of the rim, and time expired on the rebound.
"This is obviously a terrific win for our team because the conference championship goes through Cincinnati," Charlotte coach Bobby Lutz said. "This is the biggest win for us all year."
The Bearcats fell to 11-1 at home, shooting 26 percent (6-of-23) from the arc. Their starting backcourt of Nick Williams and Field Williams combined to make 2-of-10 attempts.
Typically, coach Bob Huggins absolved himself, as he did after Cincinnati's other setback, a 93-66 defeat at Louisville on January 14.
"You would think that after you get drilled by 27 points it would bring us back to earth and to reality, but it didn't," Huggins claimed.
Charlotte placed all of its starters in double figures as Curtis Withers scored 15 points and Demon Brown and Eddie Basden each chipped in 13. Brown helped the 49ers handle the Bearcats' full-court pressure by committing only three turnovers.
"We just did not create many turnovers and our half-court offense and defense were a little shaky," Nick Williams said. "They hit a lot of tough shots, but we broke down in the half-court and gave them too many easy shots."
James White's basket gave Cincinnati a 45-44 lead with 17:48 to go, its first since the game's early moments. The teams went back and forth through the remainder of the second half, with neither leading by more than four points.
Kareem Johnson collected 15 points and eight rebounds to lead the Bearcats. But Iti held his own inside against his counterpart at center with 13 and nine as the 49ers went toe-to-toe against a club used to toying with its opponents.
"They may have the most talented starting five in the league," Huggins said. "I don't think my players believed that. I told them we would get obliterated in transition defense, and we did."
That was evidenced by a second-half altercation that resulted in technical fouls being assessed to White and Iti. The 49ers held a 42-37 edge on the glass as the Bearcats were outrebounded for the third time in four games.