2023 Discount Tire - College Basketball Invitational

2023 College Basketball Invitational: Charlotte 49ers Stand Tall

2023 College Basketball Invitational: Charlotte 49ers Stand Tall

Charlotte outlasted a tough test from Eastern Kentucky to win the 2023 College Basketball Invitational.

Mar 23, 2023 by Kyle Kensing
2023 College Basketball Invitational: Charlotte 49ers Stand Tall

For the second time in as many years, the College Basketball Invitational championship belongs to a team from North Carolina. 

The Charlotte 49ers completed the program's best season since 2001 with a CBI title-game win over Eastern Kentucky. And in a CBI with 8-of-14 games from the opening round through the semifinals decided by six points or fewer, and four games going overtime, it's only fitting the finale provided another nail-biting conclusion. 

Eastern Kentucky came into Wednesday's championship roughly 21 hours removed from one of the wildest games of the entire 2022-23 college basketball season, a 108-106 double-overtime defeat of Southern Utah in Tuesday's semifinal. 

The 50-minute marathon marked the Colonels' third straight overtime contest of the CBI, and another impressive comeback for coach A.W. Hamilton's team. EKU rallied from down 12 points with less than nine minutes left in regulation, forcing the first overtime when Isaiah Cozart put down the game-tying dunk. 

Cozart was the hero on the night, also sinking the winning foul shots in the second overtime to cap his career-best 31-point night, but not before the Colonels found themselves somewhere they hadn't been previously in the CBI: On the wrong end of a raucous comeback. 

Southern Utah forced the second extra frame with five points scored in the final six seconds, culminating in Dee Barnes' lob dunk with less than two seconds left. 

Having played the equivalent of an entire extra half between its three wins over Cleveland State, Indiana State and Southern Utah may have factored into EKU's sluggish start against Charlotte. 

The third-seeded 49ers were the most dominant team through the semifinals of the CBI, insomuch as wins of nine, 11 and seven constitute dominance. But given the hotly contested nature of the tournament, Charlotte avoiding overtimes and buzzer-beaters separated Ron Sanchez's squad from the field. 

In the semifinal against dark-horse Radford, the No. 10-seed, Charlotte kept the Highlanders at arm's length throughout the second half. Brice Williams' 14-point, 11-rebound double-double paced the 49ers into the championship, where Charlotte pounced on EKU for a 42-24 halftime lead. 

Aly Khalifa rolled up 14 first-half points to lead seven different 49ers with at least four by intermission. As the Charlotte lead swelled to as many as 20 points by the 12-minute mark of the second half, the championship looked like a foregone conclusion. 

At least, it did if you hadn't been paying attention for the 14 CBI contests preceding the title round. 

Cooper Robb's four 3-pointers and 14 points after halftime helped ignite EKU on another big comeback, this time trimming the deficit from 20 points to one in the final minute. 

Robb, a former Charlotte 49er, sank the last of his triples with 51 seconds remaining, pulling the Colonels to a 69-68 score. 

Charlotte's final offensive possession was masterfully executed, however, eating up clock before Isaiah Folkes scored on a layup. A three-point lead and 18 seconds remaining seemingly set the stage for yet another Eastern Kentucky overtime, and Robb was happy to oblige with the would-be, game-tying 3-point attempt. 

But with one theme of the 2023 CBI being Eastern Kentucky's ability to rally and force overtimes, another theme was the outstanding play of Brice Williams. And Charlotte's standout forward put one final exclamation point on his Most Valuable Player with a block of Robb's shot to secure the 49ers win. 

Williams averaged 16.3 points per game for the tournament, 7.8 rebounds, and blocked six total shots. Khalifa led the way into the title round with 20 points on 8-of-9 shooting from the floor. 

Robb scored 31 combined points over EKU's semifinal and championship appearances. The 2022-23 Colonels' 23 total wins mark the third-most in one season over the program's history.