The Charlotte 49ers (11-12, 5-7 C-USA) will hit the road and travel to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, for a showdown with the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders (21-4, 11-1 C-USA). The Blue Raiders currently sit atop the Conference USA standings, while Charlotte checks in at the 10th spot.
The two teams met in the conference tournament last year, a contest which saw Middle Tennessee advance, 79-61. The only time the teams have met in Murfreesboro, however, it was a much closer affair. The Blue Raiders snuck by the Niners, 72-69. Middle Tennessee leads the all-time series against Charlotte, 5-1, including five straight victories.
Last Time Out
Charlotte continues their road trip after dropping a game against UAB, 82-69, earlier this week. Sophomore guard Jon Davis poured in 24 points to go along with five rebounds and four assists. Davis continues his surge through Conference USA opponents and remains the conference’s leading scorer at 20 points per game. As a team, Charlotte is averaging 78.4 points per game in conference, good for third in the league.
Keys to the Game
First and foremost, Charlotte must spread the wealth. It’s no secret that the team is at their best when they’re hitting from behind the three-point line. Everyone, including Middle Tennessee, knows that Davis is going to come to play every night, so other players like junior forward Austin Ajukwa, senior guard Braxton Ogbueze and sophomore guard Andrien White will prove to be key members of the offense this Saturday. If White and Ogbueze find the hot hand early, it will open up the post for Ajukwa’s infamous fade-away jumper, but it will also spread the defense and create driving lanes for Davis, who is a spectacular finisher at the rim as we all know.
On the other side of the floor, the 49ers need to find a way to help themselves out with some defensive stops. Senior forward Anthony Vanhook, who returned from injury for Thursday’s game against UAB, is back as Charlotte’s top rebounder at 6.0 per game. Vanhook, along with Ajukwa and freshman forward Najee Garvin will have to make a conscious effort to find a body, box out and crash the boards to minimize Middle Tennessee’s second chance opportunities.
Middle Tennessee Scouting Report
The Blue Raiders are averaging 73.3 points per game as a team, while holding their opponents to just 64.4 points per game. The team has three players averaging 15+ points per game: senior forward Reggie Upshaw (15.4), junior guard Giddy Potts (15.9) and their leading scorer, senior forward JaCorey Williams (17.4). Since he is a forward, expect either Vanhook or Ajukwa to be defending Williams in the game. Williams is also the team’s leading rebounder with 7.1 per game, so if Charlotte can find a way to contain him on the boards and in the scoring column, that will give them their best shot to win the game.
A Look Ahead
It’s still about a month out, but the conference tournament is coming. It’s not too late, and the 49ers have a great opportunity to make some noise and pull off an upset this weekend. If there’s a need for extra motivation, Charlotte has a bone to pick with the Blue Raiders as they are the team that ended the Niners season a year ago.
Tip-off is set for 6:00 p.m. in the Murphy Center and the game can be streamed live on Campus Insiders.