The Charlotte 49ers looked inside to snap a three-game Conference USA losing streak Thursday.
With power forward Willie Clayton and center Mike Thorne dominating the paint, the 49ers beat Florida Atlantic 86-61 before a crowd of 3,724 at Halton Arena.
Clayton tied a career high with 19 points and Thorne had 14 as Charlotte (9-11, 3-5) won for just the third time in their past 10 games.
“The book on us is to pound it inside,” Owls coach Michael Curry said. “And they did a good job.”
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The 49ers outscored the Owls (8-9, 1-5) 52-18 in the paint and outrebounded them 47-24. After FAU took a 9-5 lead, the 49ers started going inside to Clayton and Thorne, doing so by design.
49ers interim coach Ryan Odom noticed the Owls had allowed just 47 3-pointers this season. He figured that meant other teams were going inside on FAU with success. That proved to be the case against an FAU team whose biggest starter was 6-foot-9 Justin Raffington.
The 6-8 Clayton was 9-of-14 from the field and also grabbed seen rebounds. Thorne, at 6-11, made six of his nine shots and also had seven rebounds.
“We did a great job of controlling the paint and getting physical,” Thorne said. “We executed the game plan.”
It was the largest margin of victory by far this season for the 49ers, who needed a game like this in the worst way.
Charlotte had seen second-half leads evaporate in four of its five conference losses, most recently Saturday against Middle Tennessee, when they gave up a nine-point advantage. This time, the 49ers made sure that didn’t happen.
“Our mood in the locker room after the Middle Tennessee game was we were very, very upset,” said Odom, whose team shot 54.7 percent against FAU. “They were ready to get right back to work. There was focus, attention to detail and a willingness to be coached.”
Odom changed the starting lineup for the fourth time in five games. It was the first time that Clayton, Thorne and guards Torin Dorn, Braxton Ogbueze and Pierria Henry had started together. Freshman guard Keyshawn Woods came off the bench to score 13, and senior forward Terrence Williams – a starter for most of his career – came in to score 10.
“I thought Terrence did a really nice job coming in and giving us energy,” Odom said. “I told him he could come in and really dictate the pace of the game.”
49ers junior forward Bernard Sullivan suited up for a game for the first time this season. Sullivan, a transfer from Clemson who played at Davidson Day, had missed the first 17 games after suffering a concussion in the preseason. Sullivan played six minutes and scored four points.