Photo credit: Sam Roberts, Freeze Frame
And close out the Regular season on a strong note
Last week’s recap
What a week it was for the Charlotte 49ers. Two huge wins at home against North Texas and Rice have brought Charlotte up to 5th place in CUSA, which would give them a bye to the quarterfinals if they hold on. The defensive performance against UNT was top notch, holding the 2nd place team in conference to 49 points is no joke, regardless of the pace of play. North Texas shot just 39% from the field compared to Charlotte’s 47%. They took every punch the Mean Green had to offer and answered right back. In close low scoring games like that a simple 8-0 run could end things, anytime North Texas scored a few baskets in a row, Lu’Cye Patterson was right there forcing UNTs guards into the paint and dominating. Not only did he lead the team in points off the bench with 17, he also lead in rebounds with 6. A huge performance for a team that seemed to be relying on one of two players (Aly Khalifa or Brice Williams) getting hot. Saturday against Rice was back to their roots — Brice Williams was the best player on the court at all times — shooting lights out, going 9-15 from the field, 3-3 from three and scoring 25 points. He also was very active on the boards, grabbing 13 rebounds leading Charlotte to a 70-54 win that they controlled through most of the game.
A look at the final 2 C-USA regular season games, ever
This Thursday the Niners travel to San Antonio to take on UTSA, their last road game of the season. A win Thursday could clinch a bye in the conference tournament if FAU were to beat Rice on the road in Houston. Charlotte took care of the conference bottom dwellers at Halton back in January when Igor Milicic had one of his strongest performances of the season, scoring 16 points and adding 7 boards. Charlotte got out to a big lead early and never let the Roadrunners get close, cruising to an 18-point win , while holding their opponent to just 36% shooting. That was the 3rd conference loss in a row for UTSA that eventually grew to 11. It’s been a rough season all around in San Antonio, just 3-16 in conference play and shoot a league worst 40% from the field. If there is a bright spot for the team it’s been the play of senior forward Jacob Germany who is averaging 12 and 8 this season, rest assured he will want to have a big performance on senior night. Tip is at 8pm ET, stream it here on ESPN+, and the Niners have an 84% chance of taking home the win according to ESPN Analytics.
Saturday afternoon at Halton is sure to be a fun one. The incoming UAB Blazers are the hottest team in the conference, winning nine of their last 10, their only blemish a double overtime loss to North Texas. Lead by the league leader in points Jordan “Jelly” Walker, the Blazers are looking to go on another run to the NCAA Tournament as they did last year, where they secured an 11 seed.
The Blazers caught fire at the right time and have the 3rd seed all but locked up for the conference tournament next week. If Walker has any problems offensively, expect the Blazers get the ball to their other guard Eric Gaines. The two combine for the best backcourt in Conference USA. The reverse fixture in Birmingham happened back in December just before Christmas, and the lineup and minutes looked very different than they do now. It was Robert Braswell’s last game of the season before his injury, Milicic was sidelined with the flu, and Brice Williams had yet to solidify his minutes.
It will be interesting to see how Charlotte attacks this game if the 5 seed is secured. Does Sanchez roll with the full squad? Are minute adjustments made to be sure that everyone is fresh for a tournament run? You could make a case that a minute restriction could kill the momentum the team is currently enjoying. Regardless, it’s been a good season of games at Halton where Charlotte has an 11-3 record with some exciting wins over North Texas and in-state rivals Appalachian State. One more CUSA win before the conference switch next season would be a great way to close out their tenure. Tickets are still available at the ticket office and on the Charlotte 49ers website.