DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Aly Khalifa scored 14 of his 20 points in the first half, Montre’ Gipson made three 3-pointer in the second half, and No. 3 seed Charlotte held off No. 8 seed Eastern Kentucky 71-68 on Wednesday night in the championship game of the College Basketball Invitational.
Charlotte (22-14) finished the season with its most wins since the 2000-01 campaign, when it took down Tennessee in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. The 49ers were appearing in the postseason for the first time since earning an at-large bid to the 2013 NIT.
Charlotte made eight of its first nine shots and led 18-5 as Eastern Kentucky only made two field goals in the opening eight minutes. Khalifa made all six of his shots in the first half to help the 49ers build a 42-24 lead at halftime after shooting 72% (18 of 25) from the field. EKU had five scoring droughts of at least 90 seconds in the first half.
It was the fourth time in the tournament the Colonels trailed at halftime — before rattling off three straight overtime wins to reach the title game.
Cooper Robb, who played at Charlotte from 2018-20, made two 3-pointers during EKU’s 12-5 run to open the second half. But Charlotte kept its double-digit lead until the 8:44 mark when EKU scored 13 unanswered points.
Robb made a steal and raced the other way for a long 3-pointer to get EKU within 69-68 with 47.4 seconds left. Isaiah Folkes answered with a layup, off a nice pass by Gipson, for a three-point lead with 16 seconds left. After a timeout, Robb had a 3-point attempt blocked by Brice Williams and Tayshawn Comer had another attempt for EKU but it came up short.
Williams, averaging a team-high 14 points per game, finished with six points, five rebounds and two blocks for Charlotte. Gipson added 13 points, Lu’Cye Patterson had 11 and Folkes scored 10.
Robb made five 3-pointers and scored 17 points for Eastern Kentucky (23-14), which had the third-most wins in program history. Michael Moreno added 14 points and Devontae Blanton, averaging a team-high 17.4 points, was scoreless in the first half and did not play after halftime.
Isaiah Cozart was held to 10 points and four rebounds after securing a double-double in Eastern Kentucky’s opening three tournament games. Cozart set a career-highs for points (20) and rebounds (17) in the opener, and he scored a career-best 31 points in the semifinals.
The CBI trophy remains in the state of North Carolina after UNC Wilmington defeated Middle Tennessee last season.