It was tough sledding for the Charlotte 49ers men’s basketball team on Tuesday as the team struggled to keep contained a clicking Chattanooga offense. The Mocs outscored the Niners 80-69 on the night. The defense was able to show up in force in the second half, allowing the offense to catch up from 15 down to within nine, but ultimately did not play well enough in the first half to take the win.
Center Jailan Haslem led the team in rebounds with seven — six of them in the first half — but Head Coach Ron Sanchez opted not to play him in the majority of the second half in favor of a defensive-minded lineup. Guard Jon Davis led the team on offense, scoring 31 in the team’s opener to go along with his four assists. Freshman guard Cooper Robb was electric on defense, staying in the game the entirety of the second half, recording one steal and two blocks with multiple pressures on the defensive side that would lead to steals by teammates. It was a growing night for the young 49ers team; a team that employed five freshmen throughout the game.
“I feel like the first games are always challenging because you don’t know what to expect,” said Sanchez. “There’s no film to study; you’re just leaning on your own experiences. It’s tough to put the system together, you don’t really know personnel too well.”
Both sides of the ball struggled in the first half as UTC jumped out to a ten point lead after 15 minutes. The Mocs would hit from 52 percent from the three-point line, going 11-21. Center Thomas Smallwood would continuously find open looks from deep, going 4-5 on the night, as well as guard Jerry Johnson who would go 4-7.
“Thomas got too many open looks. He obviously had a good game and we didn’t recover quick enough. Our ball-screen coverages were not adequate, and those are areas we have to improve. We will address it.” said Sanchez.
The Niners were also stood up on offense throughout the night with only two players scoring in double digits and only four scoring more than five points. Although the team was able to find itself defensively in the last half and draw the game within seven, the team was still unable to convert offensively, while UTC boasted four players with double-digit points and six players with six or more points.
Despite the first half, the last 10 minutes of the game ramped up both offensively and defensively for the Niners. The team was able to shut down UTC multiple times on the interior, recording multiple blocked shots, steals and a first shot clock violation — the first real defensive stand of the game.
Davis made three shots in a row, sparking the Niners and bringing them within nine, the closest of the night. Guard Malik Martin would then go on a hot streak as he would make a shot and then tip the ball defensively, allowing Robb to steal it and commence a fast break where Martin would be fouled on the shot attempt. Another forced turnover, then back-to-back blocks by forward Dravon Mangum and Robb, coupled with a forced shot clock violation and a second block by Mangum, would allow the 49ers to show the potential that the young team has on defense.
Although the team lost, allowing 80 points in the process, eight points of which were free throws in the final minute, the team showed hope for the season and perhaps potential for a better year than the last, in which Charlotte went 6-23 and saw two head coaches.
“This is a journey. This is not going to happen right away. There’s no magic dust, you just have learn, grow and dig in. It’s not pretty, it’s not sexy, it’s just simple hard work. You have to take it to a different level, and giving up 80 points is not doing that. You have to do a lot better than that.” said Sanchez.
The Niners are set to take on Oklahoma State in Halton Arena this coming Saturday, Nov. 10 at 4 p.m.