Photo credit: Charlotte Athletics
Charlotte hits the road needing a regain their momentum
The Charlotte 49ers go into their Thursday/Saturday weekend slate against Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky after a bit of an up-and-down set this past week. A dominant 72-54 win over UTSA was all but forgotten after a nail biter of a loss against UTEP, Charlotte’s first home loss of the season. Charlotte has yet to find that spark in Conference play that brought them in with a 9-2 record, currently 3-4 in conference.
A great opportunity arrives Thursday night in Murfreesboro, where Ron Sanchez and company are searching for their first road win of the season in conference, Charlotte won the reverse fixture at home by 15 where Brice Williams scored 31 points. MTSU is third in the conference and playing well at the moment, having defeated the UAB Blazers on Monday at home by a single point. The Blue Raiders are like most teams in Conference USA, they have scoring from every part of the court, with just two averaging double figures (Dishman and Lawrence who both struggled at Halton). The last go round Charlotte did one thing particularly well, possibly the best they’ve done all season, guarded the three, MTSU shot just 6-23. They will need another night like that in order to take a win with them as they travel to Western Kentucky two nights later. ESPN analytics has Charlotte at a 45.8% chance of winning, lines should be released Thursday morning.
The game Saturday night will be Charlottes first of the season vs WKU and first Saturday night action of the year with a 7pm ET tip. WKU, another team clustered in the middle of CUSA standings has (one game separating third to ninth place) are 3-4 in conference play with a big win at UAB last Wednesday. Their last time out was a 76-62 home loss to now ranked (24th) FAU on MLK day. Keep an eye out for one of the highest usage players in CUSA with junior guard Dayvion McKnight on the ball currently averaging 17 points with 4.1 assists and 5.2 rebounds per game. Another matchup to keep an eye on is what Aly Khalifa does against 7’5” center Jamarion Sharp, Khalifa tends to struggle against the taller centers since the finger injury that’s obviously harmed his three-point production. ESPN Analytics has Charlotte with a 48.3% chance of winning.
The Niners need to get back to the things they do well in these upcoming games, team defense, ball movement and avoiding costly turnovers. All things they got away from in their recent loss at home vs UTEP. After a solid start where the threes were falling, they got stuck, turned the ball over way too much and allowed easy baskets. As a unit they continue to struggle against defenses that try to pressure Khalifa when he receives the ball at the top of the three-point line. Between Patterson, Folkes, Gipson and Williams plenty of players on the court are more than capable of running an offense it just didn’t work last go round. The longer they stay around .500 in conference play the warmer the seat will get for Sanchez and company after a very good start to the season. What adjustments will be made? Can they find some semblance of an offensive rhythm when Khalifa is denied the ball up top? If there is a bright side to find in the struggles the team has gone through over the last two weeks, the rest of the conference outside of FAU is also trying to find its footing. Win a few games in a row and all of a sudden could find yourself with a bye in the conference tournament in March.
Charlotte concludes the road trip with a game next week versus Rice (currently 4-3).