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Charlotte 49ers facing ‘crafty’ FAU

49ERS_TULSA_11
Jeff Siner - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
Charlotte 49ers head coach Alan Major talks with his team during a second-half timeout against Tulsa at Halton Arena in Charlotte. Charlotte defeated Tulsa 90-86 on Jan. 16 in overtime.

Charlotte 49ers coach Alan Major says Florida Atlantic plays like an “international team.”

That’s no coincidence. Charlotte’s opponent Thursday at 7 p.m. in Halton Arena has four foreign players on its roster, including leading scorer Pablo Bertrone, a guard from Argentina, and leading rebounder Justin Raffington of Germany.

“They’re very skilled and crafty,” Major said of the Owls (7-13, 2-3 Conference USA). “There’s almost a 30-year-old’s intelligence to their game.”

Florida Atlantic’s style isn’t unique to C-USA, a league the 49ers (12-7, 3-3) returned to after eight seasons in the Atlantic 10.

“It’s a little more up-tempo, a guard’s league,” Major said. “There’s a lot of drive and kick, not as much power ball as the Atlantic 10. That had become almost a mini-version of the Big 10, with more of a smash-mouth style. The floor is more spread open (in C-USA).”

The 49ers haven’t fully adjusted to C-USA’s style, evidenced by a current two-game losing streak. They often play with two post players – 6-foot-10 center Mike Thorne and 6-9 power forward Willie Clayton – on the floor at the same time. That has inhibited their ability to defend some of the league’s more wide-open teams.

“In the A-10, we’d see a power forward who might be 6-foot-8, 240 (pounds),” said Major. “Now he’s 6-foot-6, 215 (in C-USA). We might play a more traditional lineup with two big men, like we do with Willie and Mike.”

Major said the style issue goes both ways. Despite Charlotte’s recent struggles, other teams must adjust to what Charlotte does best. That is often banging the ball inside to Thorne and Clayton, who leads the league in field-goal percentage and is second in rebounding.

“You never want to take away what you do well,” said Major. “The other team has got to guard you, too.”

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