Willie Clayton says the Charlotte 49ers need to start paying attention if they’re going to pull themselves out of a losing streak that has reached three games.
“It’s not so much that we have problems, we’re just not listening to the coaches,” said Clayton, Charlotte’s sophomore power forward, after practice Wednesday morning. “We have to do a better job of listening to the scouting reports and being better prepared when we get out onto the court.”
Clayton and the 49ers (14-10, 5-6 Conference USA) will need to be particularly sharp Thursday, when they play host to Middle Tennessee (19-7, 9-2), which is tied for first in the league with Louisiana Tech and Texas-El Paso.
Being consistently sharp has been a problem for the 49ers, who have lost five of seven and fallen into a three-way tie for eighth place in the conference with Florida Atlantic and Florida International.
“We’re still trying to find ourselves within the whole game,” said point guard Pierria Henry. “As the game goes on, there’s subbing, different lineups, different sizes in there. We’re trying to figure out who’s hot and where there are mismatches. We’re still trying to find out how to play attack.”
Coach Alan Major said earlier this week that he is stressing in film sessions how the 49ers need to recognize that adapting to those challenges early in the game is just as important as playing well in late-game situations.
“A lot of it is about maturity,” said Major. “Not behavioral maturity, but basketball maturity.”
The opposition, especially recently, has been seizing on Charlotte’s uncertainty. Henry said that breeds doubt among the players.
“When you’re losing and adversity hits, it can bring out the worst in you sometimes,” he said. “Then you get into defense-mode, where you want to win so bad, you make mistakes at key times that you normally don’t make.”
The 49ers have beaten some of the league’s better teams (UTEP and Tulsa), but have also lost to Rice, Marshall and Texas-San Antonio.
“Again, it’s listening,” said Clayton, who averages 11.5 points, 9.2 rebounds and leads C-USA in field-goal percentage (60.7). “You listen when you’re going against teams you’re hyped about playing. But then you lolly-gag around and don’t listen against these other teams and you get beat.”
Clayton pointed to a stretch last season, in which the 49ers followed an upset against No. 10 Butler with a five-game losing streak. They responded with late-season victories against Duquesne and St. Joseph’s and a first-round win in the Atlantic 10 tournament and a berth in the National Invitational Tournament.
“We made some good things happen last year,” Clayton said. “We’ll make it through this.”
Scott: 704-358-5889; Twitter: @davidscott14
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