Photo credit: Charlotte Athletics
It is officially crunch time for the Charlotte 49ers and Ron Sanchez
One week removed from a brutal loss at Rice in which they came back from 15 down, tying it with a huge three from Khalifa, ultimate to lose on free throws. Conference play has been nothing short of a struggle so far in a jumbled conference where just two games separate Charlotte (9th) and Rice (3rd). If there is a light at the end of the tunnel, it starts this weekend. The Niners have played good basketball at home, and six of their remaining ten are at Halton Arena, where they have an 8-1 record. In order to make the most of those games Charlotte needs to get back to what has worked. When Brice Williams is clicking, everything is. Charlotte has lost 3 of the last 4, Williams scored 27 in the win and averaged 7.33 in the losses.
Thursday night brings the FIU Panthers to town where Charlotte looks to avenge the two point loss they took in a back and forth affair last month. ALY Khalifa lead the Niners in scoring with 15, but the talk of the game was the Panthers guards slicing up our defense. Dean and Jones combined for 35 points, shooting 14-26 from the field with a lot of isolation baskets. Just seven of the 24 baskets FIU scored were assisted. Denver Jones has really kicked it into gear over FIU’s current three game winning streak, bringing his average up to 19.3 points per game, 30th in the country. He does take quite a lot of shots, the trio of Folkes, Patterson and Gipson need to be ready for it. Even with Charlotte’s recent performances ESPN Analytics has Charlotte with a 92.1% chance of taking the W.
The main event of the weekend is no other than the 19th ranked team in the country arriving at Halton late Saturday Afternoon. These are the opportunities that Charlotte needs to take advantage of to bring this program forward. The 49ers last home victory over a ranked opponent was 13 years ago over 15th ranked Temple, the last ranked team to visit Halton was 8 years ago where 17th ranked Miami squeaked out a 3 point win. During their 20 game winning streak FAU has shown the ability to win in multiple ways, if they need to score, they can do so, if they get into a defensive struggle, that’s okay too. They have scoring through their entire lineup with 9 players scoring more than five a game, Johnell Davis leading the way with 13.2. FAU has performed well enough so far this season that an upset in the conference tournament could very well make CUSA a two bid league for the first time in a while. Last time out Charlotte gave them a tough fight in a game that FAU dominated until midway through the 2nd half. Charlotte had it within two late after being down 20 in an eventual 71-67 loss.
Tickets are still available online and at the ticket office for both games, Saturday is a White-out so wear your white Niner gear and show your support on “Upset Saturday”.