CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — If there’s one thing that makes La Salle coach John Giannini happy, it’s watching the Explorers’ role players step up at crunch time.

And step up they did Saturday night, as La Salle rallied from an eight-point halftime deficit to force overtime, then pull out a 91-86 double-overtime victory over Charlotte.

Cole Stefan hit two of his three 3-pointers at key points in the two overtimes and Tyreek Duren scored six of his 12 points in the final overtime to give the Explorers (11-11, 3-4 Atlantic 10 Conference) their third straight win.

“That was as dramatic a game as I’ve been involved with in an awful lot of years,” Giannini said. “It was a thrilling game to win and a brutal game to lose, because both teams played their hearts out. We couldn’t be more happy with the result … or the number of kids that contributed.”

Jerrell Williams and Earl Pettis had 17 points each and Aaric Murray added 16 points for La Salle, which is 2-2 in overtime games this season.

K.J. Sherrill had a career-high 24 points and 13 rebounds for the 49ers (9-12, 1-6), who lost their third straight game and dropped to 1-3 in overtime, all going 2 OT or more.

Yet thinking about overtime didn’t appear to be in the cards for the Explorers, who trailed 35-28 at the half and were down 67-61 with 1:08 remaining in regulation.

Then the role players stepped up.

Ruben Guillandeaux scored eight of his 12 points in the final 68 seconds, including a runner in the lane with 21 seconds left that tied the score at 71-71 and forced the extra period.

The 49ers had a chance to win it in the first OT, scoring seven unanswered points to pull ahead 78-75 with 11.4 seconds left. But Stefan nailed a 3-pointer with 7.8 seconds remaining to tie the game.

“I had a rough time shooting before that,” said Stefan, who was 1 for 4 on 3-point attempts in regulation and had missed two previous 3-point attempts in OT. “I missed quite a few shots. But coach had the confidence in me to keep me in the game, and Tyreek made a great play in getting me the ball. I didn’t think about it — I just shot it, and luckily it went in.”

Another Stefan 3-pointer with 4:34 left in the second overtime put the Explorers ahead for good, and Duren hit a layup after Sherrill missed a pair of free throws that would have put the 49ers back on top.

Duren then hit four free throws in the final 20 seconds to preserve the win.

“They made plays down the stretch when they needed to,” Charlotte coach Alan Major said. “Especially that shooter (Stefan) — they only made four 3-pointers, but he had three of them.”

Free throws were Charlotte’s problem.

After going 10 for 10 from the line in the first half, the 49ers hit just 12 of 18 in the second half and only 9 of 18 in the two overtimes. Meanwhile, La Salle was 24 of 28 from the line in the second half and both overtimes, and was 29 of 34 for the game.

“Even with that, if we had defended a little better, we could’ve made up for that,” Major said. “But it got a little contagious — when a couple of guys missed them, it got in our heads.”

Javarris Barnett scored 16 of his 19 points in the first half for Charlotte, including three 3-pointers at key moments that helped stake the 49ers to their eight-point halftime lead.

La Salle tied the score at 12-12 on Steve Weingarten’s layup with 13:43 left, but Barnett followed with a 3 from the corner 11 seconds later to put Charlotte ahead.

Barnett then dropped in two more 3-pointers, the last with 1:37 remaining, to cap a 14-8 run and give the 49ers a 35-25 lead, their biggest of the half.

It was a different story in the second half, though, as the Explorers rallied to tie the score twice, the last at 54 on Pettis’ jumper with 7:53 left. But Charlotte went on a 13-7 run that put the 49ers up 67-61 with 2:20 remaining.

Jamar Briscoe added 14 points and An’Juan Wilderness and Derrio Green had 11 points each for the 49ers.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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