College Sports

It wasn’t the Charlotte 49ers’ defense that cost them against Western Kentucky

Charlotte 49ers guard Austin Ajukwa, right, drives to the basket against Western Kentucky forward Justin Johnson during Saturday’s Conference USA game at Halton Arena. The 49ers hit just 34.5 percent of their shots in Saturday’s 73-63 loss.
Charlotte 49ers guard Austin Ajukwa, right, drives to the basket against Western Kentucky forward Justin Johnson during Saturday’s Conference USA game at Halton Arena. The 49ers hit just 34.5 percent of their shots in Saturday’s 73-63 loss.

Charlotte held Western Kentucky to its worst shooting night of the season, but the 49ers’ offensive problems doomed them Saturday night in a 73-63 loss at Halton Arena.

The Hilltoppers, tied for first place in Conference USA, were held to 39.1 percent from the floor and were unable to shake the 49ers, who made only 34.5 percent of their shots.

“The Niners are playing their tails off,” Charlotte interim head coach Houston Fancher said. “They never stopped playing. They worked hard all night.”

Western Kentucky, which has won six in a row, opened a 40-26 lead over Charlotte with 15:25 remaining, but the 49ers went on a 13-4 run and narrowed the gap to 44-39 on a Jon Davis dunk with 12:19 remaining. They got within 49-45 a few minutes later.

From there, Charlotte stayed with the Hilltoppers, overcoming the field-goal shooting woes by making 21 of 22 free throws. The 49ers were down only 55-49 with 5:33 left, before Western Kentucky went on an 8-0 run to effectively put the game away. Charlotte made only 1-of-6 field-goal attempts in that crucial late stretch.

Fancher said he believes rebuilding the 49ers, who have lost nine of their last 11, requires “emphasizing the positives with this team.” He praised his team’s foul shooting and especially its defense.

“I don’t know that we’ve guarded anyone better than this in my three years here,” he said.

The first half was … well, not very pretty.

The Hilltoppers entered as the league’s top-shooting team, hitting 50.6 percent from the floor. They proceeded to shoot 30 percent, on 11-of-37. The 49ers were even colder, making just 7-of-27.

Combined, the teams were 0-of-15 from 3-point range.

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Charlotte 49ers Jon Davis scored a game-high 26 points in Saturday’s 73-63 loss to visiting Western Kentucky. Davis set the 49ers’ Halton Arena scoring record with 38 points earlier this week against Marshall. Benjamin Robson

Records: Charlotte is 5-11, 1-4 in Conference USA; Western Kentucky is 13-5, 5-0.

What’s next: The 49ers play Thursday night at Florida Atlantic; Western Kentucky is home Thursday against UAB.

3 who mattered

Dwight Coleby (Western Kentucky): A 6-9 senior from the Bahamas, Coleby scored 10 points, grabbed 12 rebounds, blocked three shots and had two steals.

Jon Davis (Charlotte): He shot below 50 percent from the floor (7-of-18) after an above-50 percent outing Thursday, but Davis finished with a game-high 26 points and three steals.

Jailan Haslem (Charlotte): He scored only four points, but Haslem grabbed 12 rebounds and was Charlotte’s main inside presence against a taller opponent. Haslem fouled out in the closing minutes.

Observations

▪  The 49ers were outstanding from the foul line, hitting 21 of 22 shots. Davis was 11-of-12 from the line.

▪  The 49ers’ bench was shut out Saturday night. All five reserves who played are freshmen.

▪  Western Kentucky trailed for fewer than seven minutes combined in its first four conference games. That trend stayed largely intact, as the 49ers led for only 1:50, early in the first half.

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Charlotte 49ers forward Najee Garvin (1) looks for an outlet against Western Kentucky at Halton Arena on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018. Benjamin Robson

Worth mentioning

▪  Western Kentucky has made a 3-point field goal in 956 consecutive games, dating back to March 15, 1987. That’s the season when the 3-point field goal was instituted.

▪  At-large bids have been rare for Conference USA in recent seasons, but Western Kentucky’s resume includes victories over fifth-ranked Purdue and American Athletic power SMU. The Hilltoppers’ RPI is 40.

▪  Some good news for the 49ers. Former track standout Briauna Jones was named Saturday as a member of the U.S. women’s bobsled team for the Winter Olympics next month in South Korea. Jones, a 2014 Charlotte graduate, is the school’s first Olympic athlete. The 49ers’ current track coach, Bob Olesen, was a bobsled Olympian in 1998.

W. KENTUCKY 73, CHARLOTTE 63

W. KENTUCKY (13-5)

Coleby 3-8 4-4 10, Johnson 3-10 2-4 8, Hollingsworth 5-11 0-0 10, Bearden 6-9 5-6 19, Thompson 4-12 4-7 13, Diagne 1-4 0-0 2, Nelson 0-1 0-0 0, Ohmer 0-5 2-2 2, Anderson 3-4 3-6 9. Totals 25-64 20-29 73.

CHARLOTTE (5-11)

Garvin 3-5 0-0 6, Haslem 2-3 0-0 4, Ajukwa 3-12 2-2 9, White 5-15 8-8 18, Davis 7-18 11-12 26, Thomas 0-1 0-0 0, Supica 0-1 0-0 0, Vasic 0-0 0-0 0, Murphy 0-2 0-0 0, McGill 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 20-58 21-22 63.

Halftime—W. Kentucky 28-20. 3-Point Goals—W. Kentucky 3-14 (Bearden 2-2, Thompson 1-4, Diagne 0-1, Ohmer 0-1, Hollingsworth 0-3, Johnson 0-3), Charlotte 2-15 (Ajukwa 1-3, Davis 1-5, McGill 0-1, Murphy 0-2, White 0-4). Fouled Out—Haslem, Bearden. Rebounds—W. Kentucky 43 (Johnson 14), Charlotte 36 (Haslem 12). Assists—W. Kentucky 8 (Thompson 6), Charlotte 5 (White, Davis 2). Total Fouls—W. Kentucky 17, Charlotte 24. A—3,845 (9,105).

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