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Another hard-to-explain loss by Charlotte 49ers

It’s becoming difficult to figure out this Charlotte 49ers team.

The 49ers (12-7, 3-3) have some impressive victories this season. They beat Kansas State and Michigan in Puerto Rico. They’re the only team to beat Texas-El Paso in Conference USA and handed Tulsa one of its two league losses.

But it’s confounding and frustrating defeats – especially Saturday’s 81-79 loss at Rice and at Texas-San Antonio two weeks ago – that are defining the 49ers as they head into a two-game homestand of Florida Atlantic on Thursday and Florida International on Saturday.

Rice broke a 16-game C-USA losing streak in beating Charlotte. Texas-San Antonio has lost three straight since beating Charlotte.

So what’s going on? Saturday coach Alan Major didn’t appear on the postgame radio broadcast at Rice and came out of the locker room after the Observer’s deadline, according to a team spokesman.

• Turnovers have cropped up. Charlotte averaged 21 (24 against Louisiana Tech, 18 against Rice) on this road trip. Rice scored 17 points off those 49ers mistakes; Louisiana Tech had 27. Forward Willie Clayton accounted for 14 (eight against Rice, six against Louisiana Tech).

• The 49ers played virtually no 3-point defense against the Owls, with Rice hitting 12 of 24 long-range shots. And Charlotte, C-USA’s best 3-point shooting team, went a combined 8-of-29 against Louisiana Tech and Rice. Denzel Ingram, the league leader in 3-point shooting percentage, was 0-for-6 in the two games. Ben Cherry was 1-for-2 against Louisiana Tech and didn’t attempt a 3-pointer against Rice.

• But the biggest problem appears to be how opponents are taking control in the second half, which is something that’s tougher to quantify. The 49ers were able to rally from late deficits in home victories against Tulsa and North Texas. But they lost first-half leads against Louisiana Tech and Rice and couldn’t recover (although a last-second missed shot by Cherry could have tied Rice). Pierria Henry, so stellar during the late going in victories against Tulsa and North Texas, had fouled out Saturday.

Major has said that’s a product of a young team still not appreciating the value of each possession – whether it’s early or late. There continue to be lessons to be learned, he has said, about how to play for a full 40 minutes.

The conference season is young. Charlotte can get back on track this week at Halton Arena, where they are 7-2.

Major might be correct in saying the 49ers are young, with Cherry the team’s only senior. Players like sophomore center Mike Thorne, sophomore guard Shawn Lester and backup freshman forward Marcus Bryan have plenty to learn.

But the 49ers also have plenty of experience, with juniors Henry and Terrence Williams and sophomores Clayton and Ingram all well-seasoned enough to have learned those lessons.

Scott: 704-358-5889; Twitter: @davidscott14
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