Charlotte 49ers coach Alan Major said his team had a productive two days of practice in preparation for Saturday’s 7 p.m. game against USC Upstate in Halton Arena.
That’s probably a good thing, as the 49ers (7-3) try to shake off the after-effects of a 44-point loss Tuesday at Florida State – the most lopsided defeat in Charlotte’s Division I history.
“I think the guys learned a valuable lesson, not just in basketball but in life,“ said Major. “We’ve got to maintain our identity as a team.”
Major said there is something else the 49ers learned: As they continue to improve as a program and gain national notice with victories like they had earlier this season against Michigan and Kansas State, they will have to better cope and show better composure against what will be their opponent’s best shot every night.
That was the case Tuesday, when Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton attributed the Seminoles’ intensity and focus to the respect they had for Charlotte. It was the case last season when the then-unbeaten 49ers lost by 31 points at Miami and Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga made similar comments as Hamilton’s.
“It’s a compliment to you when you hear that, it means you’ve made strides that people are paying attention to you,” said Major. “So our guys have to embrace that idea. Sometimes you don’t have the luxury of knowing the other team’s mindset. But you’ve got to know that if you’ve had some success, it’s going to factor in to the other team’s approach to you.”
Major wasn’t implying the 49ers would have beaten the Seminoles had they been more prepared mentally to play, just that they would have given themselves a better chance against a team that was taking them very seriously.
Then there was the matter of the ejections against Florida State of junior point guard Pierria Henry and sophomore power forward Willie Clayton. Henry was thrown out after receiving two technical fouls (one for taunting, the other for continuing to go at it verbally with Seminoles players) and Clayton was called for a flagrant-2 foul. Henry and Clayton will both play Saturday.
“They both know we expect more from our leaders,” said Major. “They were both very apologetic.”
There will be nothing easy about facing the Spartans (6-5), who have been in Division I only since 2007 and won perhaps the biggest game in school history Thursday, beating South Carolina 74-68. The Spartans also upset Virginia Tech earlier this season and had a double-digit lead against Tennessee before losing.
“It’s good to be able to beat your ‘big brother’ in your state,” Spartans coach Eddie Payne said of the Gamecocks game. “People really noticed it.”
The Spartans are led by 6-foot-6 forward Torrey Craig, the Atlantic Sun’s preseason player of the year who played at Great Falls (S.C.) High and averages 17.7 points, and forward Tyler Glenn, who scored 21 points and had 14 rebounds against South Carolina. As impressive as USC Upstate has been against those “power” conference teams, they’ve also lost to Winthrop and UNC Asheville, a team Charlotte beat by 21 in November.
Payne grew up in Charlotte, played at East Mecklenburg High and later at Wake Forest. He’s had several other coaching jobs, including Belmont Abbey, East Carolina, Oregon State and Greensboro College. His wife Ann is a former 49ers women’s coach.
“Spartanburg is just a short drive from Charlotte but we’re not able to get up there much,” said Payne, who will have about 20 family members at the game. “It’ll be good to be back.”
Scott: 704-358-5889; Twitter: @davidscott14
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