The Charlotte 49ers won a hard fought victory where the team showed much resilience and fight. The Niners kept at it in the second half, proceeding to put the game away and come home with their eighth straight win.
At tip-off the 49ers came out swinging causing UTEP to foul three times within the first three minutes and a big steal from Drew Edwards put the home team up 6-4. While the Niners started the game playing good defense, their opponents were hitting contested shots. Both teams went on runs, then UTEP received a technical when Daryl Edwards drilled a three and taunted the Niners bench.
Charlotte began doubling their defense on paint touches while UTEP switched to a zone defense. The Niners’ switch on defense worked because the Miners stopped posting for a portion of the first period. The 49ers ended the half down 31-36 in part because of UTEP shooting 46.2% from three point territory.
When the second half started, the Niners felt a surge of energy. Charlotte started hitting threes, and even though the Miners were hitting them as well, the Niners were picking it up on defense. After being relatively quiet in the first half, Souley Boum broke out in the second half with a couple of big shots. Charlotte started exclusively scoring in the paint. And then came Edwards. After a rough first half, he was back to getting big buckets and came up with a huge block.
Luka Vasic stole the ball from Boum, which led to a fast break in which Jahmir Young was fouled and the crowd erupted seeing their team fight on defense. A tough physical defense and rowdy crowd caused UTEP to start feeling the pressure and lose their ability to score or defend. This made way for Young to make a tough layup putting the 49ers up 54-53. Halton Arena was rocking after the increased defensive intensity and obtaining the lead and the Niners kept up their play by not allowing any clean inbounds from the UTEP offense. As Charlotte was coming back on offense, Malik Martin contributed with a big three.
Amidou Bamba showed his defensive chops on the court defending the pick and roll well on just about every possession as well as helping the Niners to lead 63-58 with less than 2 minutes left in the game. After four straight points from UTEP, Bamba came up with a huge bucket and the foul that sent the 49er crowd into another frenzy and put Charlotte up 65-62. Some scrappy defense on both sides and Martin with great defense on a shot attempt gave Charlotte the ball with under 30 seconds left and up 65-64.
The Niners were fouled on offense and Jordan Shepherd, who had eight assists, hit a pair of free throws to take the lead to 67-64. Great defense by Charlotte causes an airball from UTEP to put the ball in Charlotte’s hands with eight seconds left. Young was fouled on the inbound and hit one of two free throws to seal the game at 68-64.
After the game, Head Coach Ron Sanchez and Guard Young talked about how much of a battle the game was and how happy Sanchez was with the teams effort and play.
“It was a collective effort. Every single individual that stepped on the floor came out with a level of intensity that was encouraging,” Coach Sanchez said.
Coach Sanchez praised the team's rebounding, emphasizing the lack of offensive rebounds from a very tall team. Young and Coach Sanchez talked about Young’s impact on the court when his shot is not falling.
“I try to pick it up on defense and keep my team in the game,” Young said.
Charlotte plays UTSA Saturday, Feb. 8 at 4 p.m. back in Halton Arena.