The Charlotte 49ers and Texas-El Paso Miners haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory this college basketball season.
Both teams carry lengthy losing streaks – Charlotte’s is at 10; UTEP’s stands at six -- into their game Thursday at Halton Arena. Here are five things the 49ers (5-18, 1-11) must do to beat the Miners (7-17, 2-10) and move out of sole possession of last place in Conference USA (and, potentially, closer to a berth in the league’s 12-team tournament):
Avoid a slow start: Charlotte lost twice last week on the road, spotting big leads to Louisiana Tech (20-5 to start the game) and Southern Mississippi (22-7). When the 49ers have been more competitive, as in a 78-73 loss two weeks ago to league-leader Middle Tennessee, they’ve kept it close in the first half.
Find help for Davis: It took a while, but 49ers junior point guard Jon Davis is playing up to his all-conference status, averaging 21.6 points over the last nine games. A problem for the 49ers, however, has been the lack of support for Davis over that time. Shooting guard Andrien White (13.8 points per game) is healthy now after missing four of five games with thumb and head injuries. He’s the only other Charlotte player who averages double figures. With freshman shooting guard Ryan Murphy (foot) out for the season, the 49ers need more production from guards Austin Ajukwa and Najee Garvin and center Jailan Haslem.
Box out Wilms: Although UTEP is also in the throes of a lengthy losing streak, the Miners recently got back 7-foot-1 center Matt Wilms, one of C-USA’s top big men who missed eight games with a wrist injury. Wilms had 12 points and seven rebounds in a loss last week to Texas-San Antonio. Keeping track of Wilm under the boards will be critical for the 49ers, who have a minus-2.1 per game rebounding margin.
Be more efficient: Among the most striking statistics of this season is the 49ers’ assist-turnover ratio of .7, lowest in C-USA. Davis’ mark of 1.3 ranks 16th in the league. But UTEP averages just 4.1 steals per game, so Charlotte might be able to take better care of the ball against the Miners.
Take advantage of the competition: Interim coach Houston Fancher says the 49ers have a bad habit of playing down to the competition.
“We’re looking up at everybody and chasing everybody (in the league),” Fancher said. “It seems we’re more competitive with the teams in the upper half of the league than teams in the lower half. It’s like we’re playing for survival against teams in the upper half. Then we ... play teams in the lower half and, I don’t know if it’s a loss of focus or losing guys (to injury). But from a competitive standpoint, it seems we haven’t been as focused and as ready for teams that are down there with us.”
For the victory-starved 49ers, Thursday would be an ideal time to reverse that trend.
David Scott: @davidscott14