The Charlotte 49ers’ starting lineup hasn’t varied in 11 college basketball games this season.
The same group – center Mike Thorne, power forward Willie Clayton, small forward Terrence Williams, shooting guard Braxton Ogbueze and point guard Pierria Henry – has come out for the opening tip each game, and should again Tuesday when the 49ers (6-5) play at Georgia Tech (8-3).
But circumstances and conditions change as each game wears on, and that’s given coach Alan Major an opportunity to mix and match other lineups.
For instance, in the 49ers’ most recent game – an 81-78 loss at Georgetown – foul problems for Clayton and Thorne forced Major to essentially alternate the two of them as Charlotte nearly erased a 16-point second-half lead by the Hoyas.
The lineup became even smaller (and more effective) with Henry and Ogbueze anchoring a four-guard lineup with freshmen Keyshawn Woods and Torin Dorn.
“Because every game is so unique, you only know when you’re in it that there are certain ways to go,” said Major. “Sometimes foul trouble dictates that, sometimes whether you’re facing a man-to-man or zone (defense) dictates it.”
It can also be dictated by the play of two precocious freshmen – Woods and Dorn – who have been options 1A and 1B off the bench for Major. Dorn is the team’s second-leading scorer (11.2 points per game) behind Ogbueze (13.1). Woods, who likely will take over as the starting point guard when Henry graduates after this season, averages 9.5 points and makes 55.3 percent (21 of 38) of his 3-pointers (tops in Conference USA).
“We’re trying to close the experience gap with Keyshawn and Torin,” said Major of the freshmen, both of whom average about 25 minutes per game. “We’re happy with where they are.”
Lack of frontcourt depth also plays a factor in Charlotte’s lineup choices. With Bernard Sullivan (concussion) not playing yet this season, there are no real options with much size for Major behind Thorne (6-foot-11) and Clayton (6-8), although 6-9 sophomore Cameron Blakley’s playing time has increased recently.
“Fouls and fatigue can factor in,” said Major. “As good as Mike and Willie are together, they can get tired together. So you want one to be out of the game when the other hits the wall.
“Once you get that going and they each get a break, you kind of yo-yo them in and out of there.”