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Major agrees: Charlotte 49ers need focus

Charlotte basketball coach Alan Major said Tuesday he concurs with his athletics director’s view that his team is lacking focus during a stretch of season where the 49ers have lost five of their last seven games.

“I would agree with her,” said Major. “But I would say (losing focus) is happening in pockets. There have been other pockets that have been fantastic and we’ve been playing well.”

49ers athletics director Judy Rose said after Charlotte’s 59-56 Conference USA loss against Marshall that the team has lost focus and isn’t the type of team it was early in the season, when it beat teams like Michigan and Kansas State and won the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.

The 49ers (14-10, 5-6) have gone 9-9 since then and are on a three-game losing streak as they prepare to face first-place Middle Tennessee (19-7, 9-2) Thursday at Halton Arena.

“This time of year, February, it’s the details,” said Major, whose team features just one senior in guard Ben Cherry. “A whole lot of what we’re doing (has been established). Now it’s the detail stuff.”

Although Cherry is the only senior, the 49ers have experience in junior guard Pierria Henry and junior wing Terrence Williams, as well as sophomore power forward Willie Clayton, who has now played in 56 games (starting 55) in his career.

Major said it’s still a challenge to get the players to understand that a 40-minute effort is necessary each night. Charlotte saw a 30-19 lead against Marshall disappear, but still had a chance to win when Henry missed a final-second 3-pointer.

“As we watched film the other day, guys were amazed that it’s never the play at the end that does it,” Major said. “It’s not Pierria’s wide-open 3, that’s beside the point. It’s the plays that happened in the first half and earlier in the second half. You string them together and that’s what makes the difference.”

Major tried to shake things up against Marshall by starting a smaller lineup, using guard Denzel Ingram in the place of struggling center Mike Thorne. Cherry sprained his shoulder against the Thundering Herd and, although Major is hopeful he’ll play against Middle Tennessee, that might necessitate another lineup change.

But it probably won’t include leading-scorer Shawn Lester in the starting lineup.

“It crosses your mind,” Major said of the possibility of starting Lester, a sophomore guard who averages 13.2 points. “But he’s so comfortable coming off the bench, you don’t want to cut off your nose to spite your face. You don’t want to disrupt ours or the kid’s rhythm.”

Major agreed starting Lester could provide a spark at the outset.

“He could, but maybe not,” said Major. “Sometimes you want that spark for when he comes in, because he’s a good energizer for us. It’s a delicate balance. But for this week, we’ll probably keep bringing him off the bench.”

• The 49ers’ annual alumni game will be at 12:45 p.m. Saturday at Halton Arena. It will precede the 49ers’ game against Alabama-Birmingham at 3:30 p.m.

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