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2013-14 CONFERENCE USA BASKETBALL | Charlotte 49ers

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Assessing the Charlotte 49ers at mid (conference) season

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TODD SUMLIN - tsumlin@charlotteobserver.com
Charlotte 49ers guard Ben Cherry (24) has been the best 3-point shooter in C-USA at 52.1 percent.

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  • Charlotte (14-7, 5-3) at Tulane (11-11, 3-4)

    8 p.m., Devlin Fieldhouse

    Charlotte has won two straight as it embarks on a two-game Conference USA road trip. ... The 49ers’ Ben Cherry, the league’s top 3-point shooter, transferred to Charlotte from Tulane after beginning his career at The Citadel. ... Cherry followed former Citadel coach Ed Conroy to Tulane. ... Green Wave guards Louis Dabney (16.9) and Jonathan Stark (15.6) are both in the league’s top 10 in scoring. ... Tulane leads the league in free-throw shooting (71.3 percent). David Scott



The Charlotte 49ers will open the second half of their Conference USA men’s basketball season with road games this weekend against Tulane and Southern Mississippi.

It will be a chance for the 49ers (14-7, 5-3) to move into the upper echelon of the 16-team league, or to otherwise continue to tread water in the middle of the standings.

Charlotte, alone in sixth place heading into Thursday’s games, will face Tulane (11-11, 3-4) on Friday and first-place Southern Miss (19-3, 6-1) in a nationally televised game Sunday afternoon (CBSSN).

Here’s a snapshot of the 49ers as they head into the final eight games of the regular season:

What’s gone right

• Charlotte’s defense has stepped up recently, and that will be a key factor in how the 49ers perform this weekend. The 49ers are holding conference opponents to 44.3 percent shooting, a figure helped by strong defensive efforts last week in victories against Florida Atlantic (37.5) and Florida International (38.5). It wasn’t too long ago that North Texas shot 50.9 percent and lowly Rice made 12-of-24 3-pointers against the 49ers.

•  Charlotte’s 3-point shooting (38.0 percent) is the best in C-USA. Ben Cherry, coming off a 5-of-6 night against FIU, leads the league at 52.1 percent. And although Denzel Ingram has cooled recently, he – along with Shawn Lester and point guard Pierria Henry – are also legitimate deep threats.

• Henry and power forward Willie Clayton are playing the way the 49ers need them to. Henry is one of the least-appreciated point guards in the country and continues to be everywhere – averaging 12.2 points, 6.2 assists, 5.1 rebounds and 2.4 steals. He still turns the ball over (3.0 per game), but his 2.07 assists-turnover ratio is solid. He’s one of nine players in the country who averages double-figure scoring and at least five rebounds and assists.

Clayton continues to churn out double-doubles (10 this season) and leads C-USA in field-goal percentage (62.6) and offensive rebounding (4.1 per game).

• Sixth-man Shawn Lester is the 49ers’ wild card. Lester, a sophomore shooting guard, leads the team in scoring (13.0), but it’s his athleticism and ability to make things happen that set him apart. His impact will only grow as he becomes more comfortable in the 49ers’ system.

Causes for concern

• Every step the 49ers take forward – beating Kansas State and Michigan; opening the league season with a victory at Texas-El Paso – seems to be countered by a baffling loss – falling by 44 at Florida State; road defeats to Texas-San Antonio and Rice. That doesn’t portend well for this road trip. The 49ers haven’t been good away from Halton Arena (2-5) and need to get that sorted out in the second half.

• Charlotte (67.0 percent for the season) has had stretches where free-throw shooting has been a real problem, including missing 20 against Tulsa and barely making 50 percent (21 of 39) in two games after that against North Texas and Louisiana Tech. And Hack-A-Willie could become a legitimate defense for Charlotte opponents: Clayton is making 52.8 percent of his free throws (47.8 in the league).

• Sophomore center Mike Thorne has been inconsistent of late: his 12 points against FIU were his first in double figures in five games and he’s averaged 5.4 rebounds during that span. Guard Terrence Williams’ shooting has also plummeted; he’s made 24.1 percent of his shots over the past four games.

• While the 49ers are 9-2 at Halton, average home attendance of 5,090 is on track to be the lowest since the arena opened in 1996. College basketball attendance has declined across the board in recent seasons – and with four home games remaining, there is not much time for Charlotte to bring that number up. Still, the 49ers are third in C-USA in attendance, trailing only UTEP (7,662) and Old Dominion (6,183).

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