By Ken Cross
Reminiscence is a beautiful thing in the positive mantra and Charlotte coach Mark Price has 49ers fans dreaming of the period first go around in Conference USA when the 49ers were on the level of Louisville, Cincinnati, Memphis, and Marquette, all of who came into Halton Arena every season and, for the most part, had to fight their way out to get key road wins.
The CUSA culture has changed for now. This is not a three or four bid league, but it is a competitive league where its members fight for position in league play and a lone NCAA bid in the CUSA basketball tournament in March. Hopefully, overlooking good second and third place that will change with the tough non-conference schedules the teams play and with wins like MTSU’s shocker over Michigan State last season.
The Niners are in a revival of sorts as Price moved the team to a 9-9 record in the league last season and after Saturday’s 101-76 pounding of North Texas, the thought is certainly out there that, although a guard-laden team with no post presence, this team is offensive enough to threaten the top four or five teams in the league.
The 49ers shooting woes of the non-conference season seemed like that bad memory on Saturday as they shot 52 percent and were an amazing 14-of-20 from behind the arc.
This was a great win and opening game for conference play,” said Price after the Niners’ seventh win of the season, “Nice to see some shots go in. That’s something we have been struggling with early in the season.”
Point guard Braxton Ogbueze had struggled at a 33 percent clip, but was 4-of-5 on Saturday while Andrien White came off the bench and nailed three as he had a game-high 20 points.
“Some of our guys saw shots go in and it really helped us,” noted Price, “I was real please with the effort.”
Ogbueze’s determination to regain his shooting touch was a key as he hit three quick triples after going a combined 0-for-6 in the previous two losses to Florida and Maryland.
“Hopefully he will continue to build on that,” explained Price. We spent a lot of time in the gym with him this week to get his confidence back in his shots and we tweaked a couple of things as well.”
Adding to the offensive attack was freshman Quentin Jackson whose athleticism and slashing abilities works in helping to set up the three-point game. He finished with 17 points, five boards, and four assists in 21 minutes as his style of play makes opponents have a different style to have to worry about, coming off the bench.
3:21 1H – Rice 38, #49ersMBB 25
The Owls extend their lead with an 8-0 run. C-USA Rookie of the Week Quentin Jackson headed to the line. pic.twitter.com/pJQiHvNX9t
— Charlotte Basketball (@49ersBasketball) January 3, 2017
“The difference is the college level and the prep that goes on it,” said Jackson, “We can’t take days off. Everybody is starting to realize that. When we come prepared for every game, we are that much better. Guys have been in the gym after practice to get more shots off. When we find openings, we just knock down the shots.”
Charlotte took a 32-15 lead as Jackson scored seven points in a 1:46 stretch as the team hit six of it’s 14 triples in the first 9:17.
Jackson received CUSA Freshman of the Week honors for his play against the Mean Green and topped that on Monday night as he went for 19 points on 7-of-13 shooting in 25 minutes.
“Quentin had two really good games back to back and will give us another guy on the floor to build on what we have,” said Price.
Fast-forward 48 hours and the shooting issues were realized once again as Rice bounced back after a 26-point loss at ODU in handing Charlotte an 89-70 defeat. The game proved what we know about the profile of the 49ers – all of their guards must be consistent in shooting the three-ball for them to win.
Monday night, Braxton Ogbueze and Andrien White were a combined 0-for-10 from the floor in missing a combined five triples. In general, the team was only 3-of-13 from behind the arc, both numbers season lows for makes and attempts.
“Other than our point guards, we had a struggle shooting the ball,” explained Price of a collective 43 percent outing, “We had a combined two points and when we get an ‘0’ – from Bo (Braxton Ogbueze) and Andrien, we are going to struggle. This was a team that we knew could score the ball with them and we had to try to get enough stops to try to win the game and we could not do that.”
The Owls are much improved at 11-4 so far and will be a tough out in CUSA. It starts with CUSA’s leading three-point shooter, Egor Koulechov, and then the athleticism of Marcus Jackson and Marcus Evans, who led all scorers with 25 points on Monday night.
None of the three players allowed the 49ers to make a run during the game. They finished the game by combining for the final 13 points and then Jackson hit a couple of key baskets as Charlotte cut the lead to 60-48, but could get no closer.
“We need to break this trend of losing to the good teams by 20 and beating teams that we are supposed to beat,” analyzed sophomore guard Jon Davis, who led Charlotte with 20 points, “All the teams we have played, we need to take our punches better and when somebody hits us we need to hit back. Maryland hit us, we got down seven, and lost by 20. At Wake Forest we got hit in the first five minutes and didn’t hit back; same with Florida. We have to break that trend.”