College Basketball

Charlotte 49ers’ Clayton takes time, puts up points

Charlotte 49ers power forward Willie Clayton found something Friday in a 63-61 victory against South Carolina in the semifinals of the Charleston Classic: his offense.

Clayton, who had been struggling at that end of the floor in Charlotte’s first two games, scored a season-high 11 points on five-of-nine shooting against the Gamecocks. He also made his only free throw, which is news because Clayton had been two-of-11 from the line entering the game.

The guard-oriented 49ers (3-0) will again need the offense of Clayton and center Mike Thorne on Sunday, when they face Miami (4-0) at 9 p.m. in the championship game at TD Arena.

Clayton had a career scoring average of 9.6 points per game entering this season. But he opened the season by scoring four points against Elon and followed that with just two (on one-of-six shootig) against Penn State in the 49ers’ opener in Charleston.

“I took my time a lot (against South Carolina),” said Clayton, a 6-foot-8 junior whose game is built around his rebounding. “I did a lot of thinking over the few games. I felt like I was rushing my shots.”

Clayton seldom ventures far from the basket. Against South Carolina, he allowed the Gamecocks’ big front-court players to get up in the air before dropping in his shot.

“I came out here (Friday) and just played my game,” said Clayton.

Clayton’s rebounding has dropped off, but it’s early. He’s averaging 7.0 per game, down from his 9.6 career average.

Clayton also played a key defensive role in the 49ers’ victory against the Gamecocks. With 14.2 seconds remaining and the 49ers leading by two points, he tipped away an inbounds pass by the Gamecocks. He then helped force South Carolina into a five-second call.

“It’s hard to get the ball in when you’ve got a guy with arms that reach out to here is in your way,” said Gamecocks coach Frank Martin.