Littlest Eagle shuts down Charlotte's biggest threat

MILWAUKEE (AP) -- Cordell Henry didn't wait for anybody.

Not his coach to chew out No. 9 Marquette at halftime. Not his teammates to take charge and stave off an upset.

The 5-foot-10 Henry hounded sharpshooter Jobey Thomas into just one second-half basket and scored 19 of his 22 points over the final 20 minutes as the Golden Eagles stormed back to beat Charlotte 66-52 Tuesday night.

"Cordell Henry, the smallest guy on the court, took over the game in the second half," 49ers coach Bobby Lutz lamented. "He was really the dominant factor in the game."

Dwyane Wade, Henry's backcourtmate, added 14 points as the Golden Eagles (23-3, 12-1 Conference USA) avenged their last loss, a 76-68 defeat at Charlotte on Jan. 5, when Henry had 11 points.

"In our place, Henry had a good game, but not a great game," Lutz said. "Tonight, as seniors do, as great players do, he took over."

With the Eagles rotating defenders on him, Thomas had four 3-pointers in the first half, three over the final 6:17, as the 49ers took a 30-27 halftime lead.

Marquette coach Tom Crean told Henry, who was 1-for-3 from the field in the first half, that not only was he going to have to carry the offensive load the rest of the way but the defensive one, too.

"We pretty much decided one person was going to guard (Thomas)," Crean said. "We prepared to have different people guard him, like we do with other great players. The second half came around, we were going with Cordell unless it wasn't working. And obviously it was.

"He did the best job the first half. He pretty much guards the other team's best player. He likes those challenges and he's very good at it."

Henry spoke up at halftime before Crean could come in and let the Eagles have it for their lackadaisical play.

"We knew what we had to do coming out the second half: be aggressive, assert ourselves more on offense and defense," Henry said. "It wasn't just Coach. We looked around at each other at halftime before Coach even came in there. There was a lot of chitchat going on."

The 49ers (16-9, 10-4), who were desperately seeking an upset on the road to bolster their NCAA Tournament chances, got 18 points from Cam Stephens and 15 from Thomas on 5-of-11 shooting from beyond the arc.

Thomas and Curtis Nash had 3-pointers in a 9-0 run as the 49ers
trimmed a 19-point deficit to 60-50 with five minutes left.

But Henry scored the game's only three baskets over the next three minutes to stave off the comeback as the Eagles improved to 15-0 at home.

Oluoma Nnamaka, playing with bronchitis, added nine points for
the Eagles, who rose to No. 9 in the poll this week for the first time in 23 years.

Behind three highlight variety baskets by Wade, the Golden
Eagles opened the second half with a 16-2 run to take a 43-32 lead.
Henry's breakaway basket made it 50-36, his 3-pointer made it 53-38
and his two free throws made it 60-41 with 6:48 remaining.

"In the second half they came out with tremendous confidence," Lutz said. "Obviously that starts with Cordell Henry. Dwyane Wade is a very special player, but Cordell Henry took over the game."

Henry, averaging 14.6 points, has scored in double figures in nine of his last 10 games, topping 20 points six times in that stretch.

Charlotte's Butter Johnson fouled out with 6:53 left when he committed a dead-ball contact foul on a free throw.

"You stay in this business long enough you see a little bit of everything," Lutz said.