Charlotte pulls off upset of No. 20 Cards on road

Charlotte guard Derrio Green let the 3-pointer fly just before the halftime buzzer against No. 20 Louisville on Saturday and held his right hand in the air.

When the ball swished through the net for Green’s fourth 3-pointer of the half, the sophomore turned and waved three fingers at the stunned Freedom Hall crowd.

The party was just getting started for the upstart 49ers.

Green finished with a career-high 20 points as Charlotte handed injury-depleted Louisville its worst home loss under Rick Pitino with a stunningly easy 87-65 win.

“We knew we had to stay on them early, once we hit some shots it just started rolling,” Green said. “We wanted to keep the momentum and we did.”

Did they ever.

Freshman forward Chris Braswell added 21 points and 14 rebounds while Shamarr Bowden had 17 points for the hot-shooting 49ers (6-1), who took control early and had little trouble fending off a pair of mild Louisville runs in the second half.

“We are always the underdog when we come in here,” said Charlotte coach Bobby Lutz. “We’ve always shot the ball well when we come in here and our guys can shoot.”

They proved it during a scintillating first half in which Green and Bowden combined to knock down seven 3-pointers to help the 49ers build a 47-32 halftime lead.

The Cardinals (5-2) simply had no answer. Louisville played without injured guards Peyton Siva, Preston Knowles and Jerry Smith, and the 49ers made Louisville pay by dominating on the perimeter.

“That was a bitter pill to swallow,” Pitino said. “The great equalizer was the 3-point shot. They were making some long ones, but they do that all the time. They were just better than we were tonight.

Samardo Samuels led Louisville with 14 points and Mike Marra scored 11, but the Cardinals looked flat and unorganized while Pitino experimented with his lineup looking for some consistency.

“We had a very difficult time picking up the scouting report,” Pitino said. “We paid huge consequences.”

Charlotte made 10 of 24 3-pointers, outrebounded Louisville 49-35, and had little trouble and hardly broke a sweat while weathering a couple of small Louisville runs in the second half.

The Cardinals never got closer than 14 in the final 20 minutes as the 49ers hardly looked like the team that lost to Duke by 42 last month.

“It’s a great win for us,” Braswell said. “When we played Duke and lost, we got a feel of how to play in a hostile environment. Now we are kind of getting a feeling for each other and playing with each other.”

The victory was Charlotte‘s first over a ranked team since knocking off Xavier last season and Louisville‘s worst home defeat since losing to the 49ers by 34 in February, 2001, back when both teams were in Conference USA.

That defeat came in Denny Crum’s final year on the sidelines for the Cardinals. Pitino took over shortly thereafter and has turned the program into a Big East power.

Louisville didn’t look like one, however, against the 49ers.

With Siva and Smith watching from the bench in street clothes and Knowles available only in case of emergency, the Cardinals were no match for Charlotte‘s quickness.

Pitino did what he could, throwing out different combinations in an effort to find a spark. It never came. He pulled Samuels off the floor with six minutes to go, finally out of patience.

Pitino, however, refused to blame the injuries for his team’s poor performance.

“There are no excuses,” he said.

Considering the way Green and company where shooting, it might not have mattered if Smith, Siva and Knowles had played.

Charlotte wasted little time getting going as Green knocked down three straight 3-pointers in the opening minutes to give the 49ers a quick 17-6 lead.

Pitino said before the game he was concerned about slowing down Charlotte star Shamari Spears, but the junior forward was held to nine points, 12 under his average coming in – and nine rebounds.

Green, Bowden and Braswell made sure it didn’t matter.

“It’s a very satisfying victory despite the fact that they were short-handed,” Lutz said. “I was short-handed all year last year, so I can sympathize with that because we had so many guys hurt. Our guys know it was a big win to beat Louisville.”