As ugly as Charlotte 52-40 victory against Saint Joseph’s might have appeared Saturday at Halton Arena, there was something beautiful in it for the 49ers.
With the triumph, Charlotte (20-10, 8-8) hit the 20-win plateau for the first time since 2007-08 and squeaked into the Atlantic 10 tournament next week at the Barclays Center in New York. And although the 49ers needed to beat the Hawks (17-12, 8-8) just to qualify, they’ll potentially be seeded as high as ninth, when all that is sorted out Sunday.
The 49ers might have qualified for the tournament earlier in the day, had Dayton beaten George Washington. But the Colonials’ overtime victory against the Flyers meant Charlotte had to win.
“That’s a life lesson for us,” said 49ers coach Alan Major. “We talk about taking care of things in life and not depending on people to do things for you. We had to take care of things ourselves.”
The 49ers, who snapped a four-game losing streak Wednesday at Duquesne, had lost their way in recent weeks, mostly because of a lack of defensive focus that carried them earlier in the season.
A defensive sharpness returned against Saint Joseph’s, as the 49ers held the Hawks to 29.2 percent shooting and outrebounded them 42-30. Neither team did well finding its shooters, with Charlotte totaling nine assists and Saint Joseph’s four.
“We got back to defending the way we know how,” said Major.
Charlotte didn’t play well offensively, making just 32.6 percent of its shots and missing 12 of 13 3-pointers. After trailing 19-18 at halftime, the 49ers snapped out of it to a degree in the second half. Charlotte took the lead at 37-36 when guard Darion Clark made the first of two free throws, then went up by three when Chris Braswell scored on a rebound when Clark missed his second with 7 minutes, 40 seconds left.
Charlotte’s stingy defense and the Hawks’ shaky offense allowed the 49ers to stay in control the rest of the way.
Point guard Pierria Henry’s 12 points and 11 rebounds led Charlotte, his second consecutive double-double. Freshman forward Willie Clayton had 12 points and Braswell had 10.
The 49ers’ other leading rebounders were Clark and freshman guard Denzel Ingram, who had both had seven. Major said the big rebounding numbers turned in recently by Charlotte’s guards are a function of knowing where opponents’ 3-point shots are going to bounce to (and Saint Joseph’s shot 22 of them).
It was the lowest scoring output for Saint Joseph’s since 2007.
“Everything I believe in basketball is numeric,” said Hawks coach Phil Martelli, whose team got 13 points from guard Langston Galloway. “We just scored 40 points as a Division I team... .”
Martelli reeled off the other unhappy statistics for the Hawks.
“There’s nothing I can tell you,” he said. “It was a grind.”