On New Year's Day, the Charlotte 49ers opened up conference play against Conference USA powerhouse Western Kentucky Hilltoppers with a two game series. The Niners split the series going and played in back-to-back days for the first time this season.
The first game of the series on Jan. 1st at Halton Arena was a upsetting loss for the Niners losing the game 67-63 after leading majority of the game. Charlotte lead two and half minutes into the game and not giving it up until there was 8:27 left in the game when WKU’s Luke Frampton hit a clutch three to take the lead 54-52.
Charlotte’s sophomore Guard Brice Williams set a career high amount of points in the game reaching his record in the first half at 17 points. He ended the game with 21 points while making his first eight shots. Williams also grabbed seven rebounds in his stellar performance.
“Kept finding the hot hand," said Williams. “I was a little bit of a rhythm.”
It all fell apart for the Niners in the second half giving up a 11-0 run. The Charlotte offense just couldn’t convert their shots. Coach Ron Sanchez said “missed really really good looks” talking about the amount of wide open shots they missed. Sanchez also blamed it on making “a lot of mental mistakes.”
Another standout player for the Niners in the first game was guard Jahmir Young led the team in scoring with 23 points while shooting 40% from the field. Young also grabbed 6 rebounds while dishing out three assists and stealing the ball three times.
Another player that made an impact while not filling up the stat sheet was freshman Forward Jared Garcia who came in and played arguably two of the most important minutes in the game. He came in right after WKU took the lead 56-53 and as soon as he got in the game he took the charging foul and changed the momentum back into the 49ers’ favor. He ended his two minutes of play with three made free throws and a block.
Ultimately getting dominated in the paint led to the tough loss at the end giving up 38 points in the paint while only scoring 18.
Game 2 of the series against the Hilltoppers was a tough victory for Charlotte winning 75-71 in overtime at Halton Arena.
The second game was irrely similar to the first game as Charlotte was leading the majority of the game again. Then there was a 9-0 run by Western Kentucky which brought the game to within one point.
When that happened Coach Sanchez said he there was “no ra ra speech from” him to his players he said they decided if we were gonna "lose" they (WKU) were gonna beat us, not beat ourselves.”
Charlotte stumbled after fighting back and forth with the lead. With four minutes left in the game, Charlotte trailed by seven points 62-55.
Then the defense stepped up and didn’t look to foul they “committed to just guarding,” said Coach Sanchez. Jahmir Young said that the major adjustment for game two was adjusting the defense to just “worry about getting stops one possession at a time.”
Charlotte ultimately fought back. Milos Supica was a true difference maker at the end of regulation getting a steal which led to a fast break to bring it to a one score game. Supica also made the game tying basket with 1:14 left in regulation tying it 64-64 which was the score going into halftime.
Free throws were the keys to the victory in overtime. Charlotte made nine of ten free throws in overtime alone. Charlotte’s clutch free throw shooting and defense led the Niners to victory 75-71 over the Hilltoppers.
Jahmir Young was a standout player for the 49ers in game two scoring 21 points while dishing seven assists and grabbing seven rebounds even stealing the ball once as well. He said the team was “motivated after the loss.”
Supica and Redshirt Senior Jordan Shepherd also had notable performances in game two of the series. Supica had 12 points with two steals and seven rebounds. Shepherd also had a stellar game with 15 points, two rebounds, five assists and two steals in the game.
Splitting this series was huge for the Niners because they were facing “one of the best programs in the conference year to year,” said Sanchez. He also said this was a “big step for us” beating the preseason Conference USA favorites.
One player for each team both stood out in the series.
WKU’s Senior Guard Taveion Hollingsworth had 37 points in the series along with 9 rebounds and 3 assists. The Hilltoppers move to 8-3 on the season and 1-1 in conference play.
For Charlotte, the player that stood out was Jahmir Young who had a total 47 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists and four steals in the series. Young has also scored in double digits every game this season and had his fifth and sixth 20-plus points performance for the Niners.
Charlotte moves to 5-4 on the season and 1-1 in conference after the series.
The Niners play again when they take on the Marshall Thundering Herd in a two-game series next Friday and Saturday in Huntington, W.V..