As Middle Tennessee’s 71-49 Conference USA basketball victory against Charlotte wound down Thursday, the 49ers looked like they just wanted the game to be over.
The evidence for the crowd at Halton Arena was clear. The 49ers (14-11, 5-7) threw lazy passes, appeared disinterested on defense, failed to get to loose balls and missed free throws. They were the symptoms of a free-falling team that has lost four consecutive games and six of its past eight.
All this in front an announced crowd of 4,108. And the frustration showed.
“It’s time to look in the mirror and hold each other accountable,” 49ers guard Ben Cherry said. “If we can’t find somebody to do the job, we’ll find somebody else who can. We’ve got four games left. You’ve got to settle yourself out and sacrifice.”
Said junior guard Terrence Williams, who led Charlotte with 11 points: “The veterans on the team are doing things like turning the ball over, making bad passes, not getting back on defense. Our younger players are looking up to us as leaders. We’ve got to do a better job of fighting.”
As has been the case over the past eight games, very little went right for the 49ers against the experienced Blue Raiders (20-7, 10-2).
Charlotte had 20 turnovers, which Middle Tennessee converted into 20 points. Point guard Pierria Henry had eight of them, with only four assists. The 49ers were 3-for-10 from the free-throw line.
“We’re holding ourselves back,” said Cherry. “It’s self-induced.”
The 49ers also allowed the Blue Raiders to shoot 46.6 percent from the field, including 7-for-14 from 3-point range.
Middle Tennessee focused its defense on Charlotte’s post players. The Blue Raiders double-teamed power forward Willie Clayton and center Mike Thorne when they had the ball. Clayton, with the defense collapsing around him, bulled his way to the basket as best he could, but he couldn’t capitalize when he was fouled, going 2-for-7 from the free-throw line.
The end of the first half was a microcosm of the game. Charlotte scored just one basket – a jump hook by Thorne – in the final 5 minute, 50 seconds. The Blue Raiders used that drought by the 49ers to go ahead 35-25 at halftime. As Cherry said, most of the 49ers’ problems during the first half were self-inflicted: Charlotte had nine turnovers – leading to nine Blue Raiders points – missed all five of its 3-point attempts and was just 1-for-7 from the free-throw line.
Charlotte couldn’t put any kind of dent in the lead during the second half as the Blue Raiders kept firm control.
“Charlotte’s a young team and they’re building,” Middle Tennessee coach Kermit Davis said. “We’ve got experience and it shows.”
49ers coach Alan Major put this team’s rough patch in a more personal light.
“My perspective on loss, as much as I hate it, is a little different than most,” he said. “When you lose your dad and sister in a two-year span – one in a car accident – I probably tend to look at losing in a different way than most. I don’t hate it any less, but my perspective is that we can recover quicker from this than from something that will affect you the rest of your life. This is fixable. This is a mental thing. It’s time for us to circle the wagons.”
Scott: 704-358-5889; Twitter: @davidscott14
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