College Basketball

Charlotte 49ers take show on the road before Conference USA tournament

The Charlotte 49ers and Mark Price have reached the final week of the Conference USA season looking to play better on the road in their final two games.
The Charlotte 49ers and Mark Price have reached the final week of the Conference USA season looking to play better on the road in their final two games. WWW.MICZEKPHOTO.COM

Charlotte 49ers men’s basketball coach Mark Price is well aware the Conference USA tournament is just two weeks away.

But Price wants to keep his and the 49ers players’ focus on what remains ahead – their final two regular-season games, both being played on the road.

Charlotte (12-17, 8-8) takes on Rice (12-17, 7-9) in Houston on Thursday night, then travels to Denton, Texas, to face North Texas (11-18, 6-10) on Saturday night in its regular-season finale.

“No more home games this year,” Price said during Tuesday’s press conference. “Now we’ve got to take this show on the road. We’ve got to find a way to play better on the road.”

Road games have been an issue for the young 49ers this season – they’re 4-7 overall and 2-5 in Conference USA games away from Halton Arena, and have lost their past three conference road games.

“We haven’t played as well away from home as we have at home,” Price said. “It’s another growing part of a young team, but hopefully we can remedy that this week.”

The odds are on Charlotte’s side – the 49ers soundly beat both the Owls and the Mean Green in back-to-back games at Halton Arena less than a month ago.

Charlotte exploded for 66 second-half points in beating Rice 102-72 – the 49ers’ biggest margin of victory this season – on Feb. 11, then hit 10 3-pointers in the first half to crush North Texas 103-79 on Feb. 13.

Those back-to-back 100-point games were the first by the 49ers since the 1990-1991 season; Price doesn’t expect a repeat this week against either the Owls or Mean Green.

“We dropped 66 on Rice in the second half – I’m sure that number will be written on their board before Thursday’s game,” Price said.

“It’ll be a challenging trip for us just because these are two teams we beat handily at home. We’re going to have to play well, because both teams will be looking for a little revenge.”

C-USA berths at stake

This week’s games will have some added significance for Charlotte, which could see its standing in next week’s tournament rise or fall.

The 49ers are seventh in the Conference USA standings, just a half-game back of sixth-place Texas-El Paso and a game up on Rice and Florida International, tied for eighth.

Closing out the season with wins over Rice and North Texas – coupled with a UTEP loss to Texas-San Antonio on Saturday – would move Charlotte past the Miners into the No. 6 seed.

But a loss in either game (or both) could push the 49ers’ seeding down the board.

“We could go anywhere from sixth to (No.) 9 or 10, depending on how the weekend goes,” Price said. “There is motivation there, to try and put yourself in as best a position as you possibly can.

“But our main focus right now is on Rice. We’re taking them one at a time, see if we can get that win, then move on to Saturday.”