The Charlotte 49ers beat Longwood 42-39 Monday despite shooting 26.2 percent and committing 17 turnovers.
Yet because the 49ers held the Lancers to 35.6 percent shooting and forced them into 21 turnovers, first-year 49ers coach Ron Sanchez loved it all.
“I’m really excited we had a defensive game like this,” Sanchez said. “This was enjoyable for me.”
It was a most unlikely victory for the 49ers (2-2), who made just three field goals in the first half before finally got their offense going midway through the second half. With freshman Malik Martin leading the way, Charlotte went on a 10-0 run and caught the Big South’s Lancers (4-1).
The defense, however, was there the entire way. Sanchez, a former assistant at Virginia, brought Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett’s defense-first philosophy with him to Charlotte, and, if it hasn’t yet fully sunk in, Monday’s game was evidence that it’s getting there.
“Defensive intensity is keeping us going,” said Martin, who led the 49ers with 17 points and whose 3-pointer with 9 minutes, 35 seconds remaining gave the 49ers the lead for good. “Eventually shots will fall, and they did in the second half. We’re not perfect, but we’ve taken huge steps.”
The 49ers’ “Pack” defense has improved steadily since an 80-69 loss against Chattanooga in their season opener. Since then, Charlotte has held Oklahoma State and James Madison each to 64 points, and kept them both below 45 percent shooting.
Then came Monday’s defensive effort against a Lancers team that already had a victory against the Atlantic 10’s Richmond.
The defense had to make up for an offense that produced more free throws than field goals through the first 32 minutes of the game. The 49ers trailed by as many as 11 early in the second half. But after the 10-0 run erased the lead — capped by Martin’s 3-pointer — the 49ers extended the lead, going up 41-33 on a Dravon Mangum basket with 5 minutes, 1 second left.
The 49ers had to hang on at the end after Longwood’s Isaiah Walton’s steal and basket cut it to 41-39. Charlotte then got a break on their next possession when, after guard Jon Davis missed a shot, the Lancers called a timeout they didn’t have with 10.5 seconds left. Davis hit the technical free throw for the final margin.
Sanchez was pleased the 49ers won with leading-scorer Davis scoring just seven points. Davis, one of two seniors on a team full of freshmen, had been averaging 26.0 points.
“I’m happy we won a basketball game where Jon Davis wasn’t the leading scorer,” Sanchez said. “I told them it’s not fair of you guys to always put Jon in that position. You have to take responsibility and score, and not just stand there and expect him to.
“If we win and Jon takes five shots, I’m perfectly fine with it. The best part of it? So is Jon.”
Three who mattered
Malik Martin, Charlotte: 49ers freshman guard scored 17, including the go-ahead 3-pointer
Dravon Mangum, Charlotte: Another freshman, was tough on the boards (10) and had a key basket late.
Isaiah Walton, Longwood: Lancers guard had a triple double: 12 points, 10 rebounds and 11 ... turnovers.
▪The first half was a study in ugly basketball. The 49ers were fortunate to trail 19-15 at halftime after going 3 for 16 from the field. Freshmen Martin (10 points) and Mangum (3) were the only Charlotte players to hit from the field. Davis, the 49ers’ senior leader, was 0-of-2.
The rest of their points in the first half (8) came from the free throw line. The 49ers had five turnovers over their first seven possessions and finished with 11 in the first half.
▪ Longwood’s 11 turnovers in the first half were the main reason the 49ers kept it close, although the 49ers only scored four points from them.
▪ The game was a rematch of sorts between Sanchez and Longwood’s Griff Aldrich. Sanchez was an assistant last season at Virginia and Aldrich was Maryland-Baltimore County’s director of recruiting and program development when the No. 16 seed Retrievers upset the top-seeded Cavaliers in the first round of last season’s NCAA basketball tournament in Charlotte.
▪ The 49ers are off until Nov. 27 when they will play at Davidson; Longwood plays Fairfield on Friday in the first round of the Elgin Baylor Invitational in Seattle.
David Scott: @davidscott14