The 49ers lost their fourth road game of the season to East Carolina in a tight 60-56 contest. The loss moves the 49ers to 6-5 overall entering the break.
“If you had told me that we were going to hold this team to sixty points, I would’ve been happy,” 49ers’ Head Coach Ron Sanchez said. “But unfortunately we did not shoot the ball as well as we would’ve liked from the perimeter.”
Charlotte’s offense performed well during the early first half by scoring eight points in the first three minutes. On defense, the 49ers continued to play an aggressive, disciplined scheme that focused on neutralizing the impact of East Carolina’s big-man Jayden Gardner. Gardner averages a near double-double for the Pirates and the Niners attempted to slow him down by sending double-teams when Pirate guards tried to make entry passes to Gardner in the paint. As a result, Charlotte only allowed the Pirates to score two points in the first five minutes, giving the 49ers an early 8-2 edge.
East Carolina Head Coach Joe Dooley adjusted on offense by having Gardner get the ball outside the painted area, allowing Gardner to drive into the paint to either create his own shot or attract a double-team and find an open shooter.
“He’s (Gardner) talented, man,” Charlotte forward Drew Edwards said. “He constantly attacks and has a great, physical body.”
The adjustment helped the Pirates trim the lead down to 9-7. However, the Pirates’ man-to-man defense was still proving to be no match for the 49ers’ offense, as Charlotte went on an 8-0 run to extend their lead to 17-9. The run forced Dooley to call a timeout.
The Pirates came out of the timeout break in a 2-3 zone that gave the 49ers’ offense fits and held them without a made field goal for six minutes. With a steady balance of Gardner isolation plays, Tremonet Robinson-White and Gardner pick-and-rolls and finding open shooters through fluid ball movement, the Pirates were able to take advantage of the 49ers’ struggles to score against the 2-3 zone by scoring six unanswered points.
Jahmir Young ended the 49ers offensive skid by connecting on an open three-point attempt set up by a tenacious flare screen from forward Edwards and a pass from Jordan Shepherd. In the waning seconds of the first half, Jordan Shepherd attracted a double-team and found Milos Supica wide-open underneath the basket to take a 30-22 lead into the halftime break.
Out of the halftime break, the 49ers scored six points compared to four by East Carolina, before ceding a 6-0 run to the Pirates. The run trimmed the 49ers’ lead to 36-32. The Pirates’ guard and big-man duo of Robinson-White and Gardner took over down the stretch by scoring nine and 12 of East Carolina’s final 28 points, respectively.
With five minutes remaining in the game, Gardner gave the Pirates their first lead of the game by instigating the Pirates’ fast-break offense and scoring on a driving-layup attempt. However, with a minute and a half left, Edwards helped Charlotte reclaim the lead by making a highly contested layup to give the 49ers a 56-55 lead.
On the Pirates ensuing two offensive possessions, Gardner drew fouls and went 4-4 from the free-throw line to give the Pirates a 59-56 lead with 18 seconds remaining.
With a chance to tie the game, the 49ers turned to Edwards to make the clutch three-point shot; however, he missed the shot on a controversial no-call shooting foul. Robinson-White iced the game by going 1-2 from the free-throw line.
After the break, the 49ers will move on to conference play against UAB on Thursday, Jan. 2 at 7 p.m. inside Halton Arena.
“We just need to take our momentum and carry it over into conference play,” Edwards said.