Sunday, December 9, 2012

Doubleheader Saturday - Game 1 - 49ers Remain Undefeated (Recap of CMU v. Charlotte)

Charlotte has long had a successful men’s basketball program.  The 49ers made the Final Four with Cornbread Maxwell in 1977.  They were also briefly a part of the famed Metro Conference from 1991-1995. From 1992 to 2008, Charlotte made the NCAA Tournament nine times and the NIT four times.

But Charlotte has fallen on hard times recently. Since the 2006-07 season, the 49ers have had only two winning seasons and one postseason appearance, the 2008 NIT.  So when Charlotte knocked off Davidson on the Wildcats home court for their eighth consecutive win, I featured them in my Four on the Floor weekly segment series and made plans to travel up north to see them yesterday as they hosted Central Michigan.

It was a beautiful drive up to Charlotte yesterday as the temperature was around seventy degrees. Halton Arena is right on the campus of Charlotte. After you park in the parking garage, it is a short walk to the arena, which opened in 1996.  It seats 9100 and it is quite a pretty building.  Inside, there is a huge, spacious concourse where you can easily walk around with table and couch seating.  When you walk in from the concourse to the actual arena, you are surrounded by green everywhere.  It reminds me a lot of the Nutter Center on the campus of Wright State.

The last time I was at Halton Arena was the start of the 2006-07 season when they hosted Hofstra. Both teams had made the NIT the season before.  Hopes were high for Hofstra fans going into the season as they were the favorites to win the CAA.  But the 49ers used their size advantage to knock off the Pride 88-82.

As I noted in my weekly segment, Charlotte has won with defense.  Heading into the game vs. the Chippewas, the 49ers were twenty fourth in the country in two point field goal percentage defense.  And it was clearly early on why that was the case.  Charlotte swarms to the basketball, especially in the paint, with active hands and very good help defense.  

Central Michigan made their first shot attempt, but would then not score another basket until seven minutes later as they missed their next seven shots.  However, the Chippewas came out in a zone and forced the 49ers to shoot from the outside and Charlotte struggled as a result.  Thus the score was tied at 13-13 nine minutes into the game.

Charlotte would go on an 8-0 run led by senior Chris Braswell, who comes off the bench for the 49ers. The 6-9 senior forward would score four points in the spurt and showed some nifty passing skills with a couple of assists in the first half.   He is also very effective scoring in the paint, though he has a tendency to take open shots from the outside and is not a good outside shooter. Despite being Charlotte’s leading scorer, Braswell only averages about twenty four minutes per game.  But he gives them a much needed spark off the bench.

The 49ers were still up seven 27-20 with a little more than three minutes left.  But the Chippewas, realizing that they couldn’t score in the paint, went long range on the 49ers.   Chris Fowler assisted on two three pointers, the second by Blake Hibbitts and the game was tied at 27.   Charlotte scored the last four points to go up 31-27 at the half.

There were two major developments at halftime.  First, it was Mascot Day at Halton Arena, and that included a mascot basketball game as the halftime show.  Second, I found out that Matt Cayuela, writer for the Mid Majority and known to the Twitter world as Myrtle Beach Happy Hour was also at the game and we sat together for the second half.   Matt is also known as the man who called Tulane “The Iron Mike Sharpe of the Big East” after the Green Wave joined the conference for the 2013-14 season.

Speaking of a Green Wave, the tide started going the way of the 49ers in the second half.  Charlotte outscored Central Michigan 14-2 over a period of five minutes.  The 49ers finally started hitting their shots from beyond the arc, hitting four three pointers in the first nine minutes.  DeMario Mayfield’s second three pointer of the half put Charlotte up 51-38 with 11:15 left in the game.

During this time, there was a scrum for a loose ball and a melee ensued.  Whistles blew and after all was said and done, Charlotte starting sophomore guard Pierria Henry was tossed from the game.  Not to be outdone, Central Michigan Head Coach Keno Davis was given a technical foul and nearly got tossed from the game.

Central Michigan refused to go away and continued to make shots from long distance, similar to the large t-shirt Gatling gun used during a media timeout.  Over the next seven and a half minutes, the Chippewas hit four three pointers.   The last of which, a Hibbits three point shot, cut the 49ers lead to six, 64-58 with 3:40 left.

But Charlotte scored eight straight points, including two three pointers of their own to put the game out of reach.  A Braswell layup made the score 72-58.  Charlotte would eventually win 78-66.

Mayfield led Charlotte with fifteen points, while Denzel Ingram added thirteen points and Willie Clayton had ten points and nine rebounds.  Braswell had eight points and twelve rebounds.  The 49ers shot forty nine percent from the field and had twenty three assists and only nine turnovers.

Charlotte continued to show its two point field goal defensive prowess as Central Michigan shot better from beyond the arc, 10 of 27, than from two point range, 10 of 29.  Hibbits, Olivier Mbaigoto, Kyle Randall and John Simons combined to score fifty two points and hit all of the team’s ten three pointers.

The 5,263 in attendance got to see the team’s ninth straight win.  The 49ers have five more non conference games before they start A-10 play against LaSalle at Halton Arena on January 9.  If the 49ers can win at Miami and defeat Florida State in a neutral site game, they have a good chance entering conference play undefeated.  In the very competitive Atlantic Ten, every win is needed if you want to get back to the NCAA Tournament after a seven year drought.

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