The Charlotte 49ers defeated Conference USA opponent Old Dominion 53-47 to move into sole possession of first place in the C-USA standings.
“To be completely honest, it is a long season, and it is just the third game of the season,” Charlotte Head Coach Ron Sanchez said. “Our focus is really on our next step. If you look too far ahead, then you’re going to struggle. We have to focus on the things that have kept us competitive and continue to do that faithfully in practices and games.”
It appeared that Charlotte would struggle to score against the Monarchs’ defense, as Old Dominion jumped out to an early 4-0 lead. However, Malik Martin’s early made three-point attempt, the first points scored by Charlotte, ignited a 13-1 run led by Luka Vasic, who contributed five points during the run. Trailing 13-5 after starting with a commanding lead, Old Dominion Head Coach Jeff Jones called a timeout to regroup his team.
The Monarchs made three of their next four field-goal attempts and forced three Charlotte turnovers after play resumed. In contrast, the 49ers only made one field goal and watched their lead diminish to four points, urging Sanchez to call a timeout.
Behind Edwards’ eight points and Young's four points out of the timeout, Charlotte concluded the first half by going on a 15-8 run to give them a ten-point edge heading into halftime. Old Dominion point guard Malik Curry kept the Monarchs afloat by scoring 11 of their 20 first-half points.
Old Dominion looked like a new team on offense at the start of the second half. Led by Curry and Jayson Wade, the Monarchs went on a 12-4 scoring run to trim the lead down to two points. While Wade and Curry combined for ten points on 71 percent shooting from the field during the run, the Monarchs also played suffocating defense, forcing three turnovers and holding Charlotte to 22.2 percent shooting.
“Jeff is a phenomenal coach,” Sanchez said. “I can tell you right now, when we were in the locker room at halftime, I told these guys that [the Monarchs’ 12-4 run] was going to happen and that we needed to be prepared.”
Charlotte sophomore guard Cooper Robb broke the 49ers’ cold shooting streak by connecting on a three-point shot to extend Charlottes’ lead back to five. Robb’s three sparked a 9-2 run by Charlotte, prompting Jones to call another timeout.
The 49ers and Monarchs exchanged scoring plays after the Old Dominion timeout, but Charlotte ultimately extended their lead as Martin and Young connected on two consecutive three-pointers to give them a 51-40 edge. Jones waved the white flag shortly afterward by sending in the Monarchs’ reserve players.
“That’s a very well-coached team,” Sanchez said. “We knew it was going to be a challenge and a tough, physical game. Overall, I’m thankful for the win, and we have a lot to learn.”
Charlotte continues to thrive on the defensive end in their second season in Sanchez’s pack-line defense. Against the Monarchs, the 49ers forced 13 turnovers, made two blocks, and held Old Dominion to 4.5 percent from beyond the arc. Additionally, they held the Monarchs’ two leading scorers, A.J. Oliver II and Xavier Green, to a combined two points on five percent from the field.
“We knew that they (Oliver II and Green) were the propellers of that team and that they deserved their due attention. Green was the MVP of the C-USA tournament last season, but as you can see, they have others,” Sanchez said. “It’s us versus the opponent, and I think it’s an area where they’re gaining the most confidence -- the defensive side of the ball.”
The 49ers look to remain undefeated in conference play on Thursday, Jan. 16 at Marshall.