The Charlotte 49ers (11-1) left Halton Arena Wednesday night with a 68-52 victory after playing host to the Radford Highlanders (5-6). Charlotte entered this, their 12th game of the season, with the memorable undefeated start to the year in the rear-view mirror. After losing to Miami a week ago and preparing to face Florida State on December 22, the two lower-profile contests in between could have been trap games.
After going on a 10-0 run to close their victory against Kennesaw State Sunday, no momentum was lost at tipoff against Radford. “I think the loss to Miami really woke us up, you could tell we were getting lazy,” Pierria Henry said concerning the fast start, “Today we tried to come out with a different mindset.”
Charlotte came into this game favored to win. Both squads bringing similar playing styles to the court, but the niners had a key advantage in their physicality of play. Both teams work primarily to score in the paint, but Charlotte’s ability to produce points from their backcourt and bench would prove to be a major difference in the outcome.
Charlotte opened the contest with an aggressive mindset, scoring on fast break opportunities and forcing Radford into turnovers. A little less than ten minutes into the game, and the Niners had already quickly recorded 2 blocks and 4 steals. At the eleven minute mark DeMario Mayfield got the crowd on their feet with dunks on successive fast breaks following two Highlander turnovers.
Charlotte closed the half with a dominant performance, the score set at 38-19. The 49ers brought momentum into the locker room, but Radford quickly closed the gap at the start of the second half. The highlanders shot abysmal 27% in the first 20 minutes, but improved to 40% during the second. Although Radford improved throughout the game, it was obvious they were already in too deep of a hole.
Pierria Henry led Charlotte with 14 points and 5 steals. Willie Clayton had 12 points and 7 rebounds, and as an improving freshman he will become an increasingly important in-the-paint player for the 49ers. Charlotte Head Coach Alan Major said about the forwards, Darion Clark and Clayton, and their possible contribution against Florida State Saturday, “It will be important to match [Florida State’s] physicality, and those two don’t mind that… They’re high energy guys, so the biggest thing they can do is have a great couple days of prep, go out there and be themselves.”
The Highlander’s Head Coach Mike Jones mentioned, “Coming into the game we knew it was going to be tough to score … We knew it was going to be a challenge and it was.” Arguably Radford’s best player, Javonte Green was held to only 4 point in the first half, but “The Energizer Bunny,” as Jones refers to him as, finished the game with 16 points and 7 rebounds. He led the team in both categories, and was the driving force that Charlotte seemed to have trouble stopping as the game progressed.
Superstition in mind, history was also on the 49ers side. Radford has struggled in the month of December this year, and years past; the Highlanders haven’t recorded a victory in the month of December since 2009.