Home-standing Charlotte scored the game's final seven points Friday night to hand the Vols their second consecutive setback, a 49-48 heart-breaker.
Coming off a poor defensive performance in Tuesday's 89-82 home-floor loss to Oakland, the Big Orange struggled offensively this time. Unable to solve Charlotte's 2-3 zone, Tennessee shot just 34.9 percent (22 of 63) from the floor, 11.8 percent (2 of 17) from 3 and 28.6 percent (2 of 7) from the foul line.
This offensive futility nullified a superb defensive effort. The Vols limited Charlotte to 30.2 percent (16 of 53) from the field and 26.3 percent (5 of 19) from 3. The 49ers cashed in at the foul line, however, making 12 of 13 attempts.
After sinking just 3 of his first 16 shots, Scotty Hopson made a 3-pointer and two driving six-footers - single-handedly outscoring Charlotte 7-0 as the Vols turned a 42-41 deficit into a 48-42 lead with 2:30 left.
"Scotty finally got it going there offensively and did the things he's supposed to be doing way sooner than that," UT coach Bruce Pearl said on his post-game show. "When you shoot 6 for 19 and 1 for 6 from 3, it's really disconcerting. To his credit he battled back and played well at the end. And there we were in control of the game."
For the second game in a row, however, Tennessee folded down the stretch.
Javarris Barnett hit a 3-pointer for the 49ers, then the Vols turned the ball over two times in a row. Charlotte's Jamar Briscoe drained a pair of foul shots to narrow the gap to 48-47 with 27.9 seconds left.
Melvin Goins, Tennessee's best free-throw shooter, missed the front end of a one-and-one with 19.5 seconds left. Charlotte's Phil Jones made a layup with 7.4 seconds left to give the 49ers the 49-48 lead, then Tennessee called timeout with 3.3 seconds left to set up its final play.
Charlotte forced the inbounds pass to go to 6-10, 270-pound Brian Williams at the top of the key. He shoveled the ball to Cameron Tatum, who missed badly on a desperation 30-footer just ahead of the buzzer.
Tennessee, now 7-2, never led by more than six points against a Charlotte squad that came in with a 4-6 record and its best scorer, Shamari Spears, dismissed from the team. The Vols moved in front 18-12 en route to a 24-20 halftime lead but Charlotte went up 28-26 early in the second half. Tennessee fought back to lead by six at 39-33, 41-35 and 48-42.
The final minutes, however, saw the 49ers making the crucial plays and the Vols making the crucial mistakes.
Pearl noted that his team committed "a couple of really bad turnovers" down the stretch, adding that the Vols' failure to pull away was their own fault.
"We put ourselves in that position by not executing offensively," he said. "We're 2 for 27 on our last 27 3-point shots, dating back to the second half against Oakland. We were 0-for-10 the second half against Oakland, 0-for-10 the first half against Charlotte and 2-for-7 the second half. You're not going to win shooting the basketball like that."
Hopson led Tennessee with 13 points, despite making just 6 of 19 shots. Freshman Tobias Harris posted a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Marquette transfer Jeronne Maymon, playing his first game as a Vol, produced 6 points and 8 rebounds in 16 minutes.
"I thought he gave us some energy and some toughness," Pearl said of Maymon. "He obviously did a good job on the offensive glass. And I thought he did a good job defensively, as well."