Jon Davis would score 24 points in the Charlotte 49ers’ ninth loss of the season; this time to the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. The loss would drop the team to 3-3 at home and 3-9 total in Coach Ron Sanchez’s first season with the team so far.
The Hilltoppers would score first in the game with a three pointer by Taveion Hollingsworth. The opening bucket would be a warning sign for the 49ers as WKU would shoot more threes than two pointers in the game. The team would also shoot with extreme efficiency, going 12-28 (43 percent) from beyond the arc and 24-48 (50 percent) total on the night.
Brandon Younger would score first for the home team on a layup in what would be his only points on the night. On the next play, Milos Supica would record the steal, leading to a Davis fastbreak score.
It would become the Davis show from this point on in the first half as he would make the next eight points and would total 18 of the teams 25 points at the halfway mark.
Charlotte held the lead at 10-9, but things quickly began to fall apart. Supica would toss up an awkward hook shot that would bounce off the backboard, giving WKU an opportunity on the fast break. The team would easily convert, passing the ball three times before an alley-oop slam.
Charlotte would not score for the next six minutes, allowing the Hilltoppers to gain momentum and a three point lead, leaving Charlotte down 12-15. The team would shoot 1-7 in the span, finally scoring on a Davis fastbreak to break the drought. Jailan Haslem would become just the third scorer for Charlotte with 8:46 remaining when Davis would find the big man wide open under the basket.
On the next play, Charlotte would take their last lead of the night when Jaylan McGill would score from deep beyond the arc with the shot clock turning to zero. It would put the Niners up 17-15. WKU would respond with a three, and then after a wasted possession by Charlotte, they would score another two at the rim. Haslem would record a charge in the next possession, much to the disdain of the home crowd, and Dravon Mangum would lose control of the ball on the next possession. A three pointer by Charles Bassey for the Hilltoppers would give Charlotte its largest deficit in the game as they found themselves down 17-23 with 5:08 remaining in the first.
WKU would then go on a 6-0 run in the next minute; a portion of a stretch in which the team would finish making six of the last eight shots in the half. Meanwhile, the Niners would fail to make a shot in a 6:38 stretch with Davis finally sinking two to end the half down 25-34.
WKU would score twice in a row to open up the second half, moving the deficit to 13 after McGill hit two free throws.
It would be a runaway at this point as the 49ers would score once in a 10-2 run by the Hilltoppers as Coach Sanchez took Davis out of the game momentarily in the third quarter. While he was out, the team failed to score, going 0-6 while he was on the bench.
Only two players for Charlotte would successfully score more than six points, Mangum and Davis, but Coach Sanchez wasn’t worried after the game.
“I think we did a pretty good job individually,” said Coach Sanchez. “I would take that box score any night against that caliber team. Honestly, I think our guys fought; they gave us everything they had. But there is a fatigue factor, let’s not be foolish. When you’re playing against that caliber of a team and you have no substitution, fatigue is going to be a factor.”
The team was missing two good players in guards Malik Martin and Cooper Robb. Because of this, the Niners were only able to dress eight the past few days for practice and the game.
“If you saw all eight guys out there trying to practice [you would know how hard it is]. I myself had to step into a few drills in practice this week – and we had the coaches jump into a few drills this week,” said Coach Sanchez. “You can’t practice long because we have so few bodies, so we really have to practice smart. Lots of stuff is going on behind the scenes to try and keep these guys healthy.”
With depth low, the Niners were forced to go with multiple big men in the lineup, shutting down the inside but also opening up the Hilltoppers to shoot from beyond the arc. The team would take full advantage, as 18 of the team’s 34 points in the second half would come via three pointers, shooting at 43 percent.
“I think we did a really good job [defensively],” said Coach Sanchez. “They shot the ball well from the perimeter. We had Milos playing out of position as a guard on the perimeter guy and it’s a challenge for him, but, you know, we tried to take advantage on the other end but we couldn’t score on the inside. It’s pretty big; it made it hard down there. “
The Niners were unable to control the game any longer as they let the lead grow to as large as 25. In the end, the team would lose with the final score of 50-68.
“In these situations you have two options: you can mope, you can make excuses, or you can put your head down and try to find a solution [sic]. We are trying to improve guys as much as we can and take the low numbers of guys, manage them, and we are going to grow and be better because of this,” said Coach Sanchez. “I said it after my first press conference, I said it after an L, we will say the same thing after a W. This is a long journey and we are in the middle of it. That’s it. Now we just got to navigate through it. We can’t go around it, we got to be in it. We got to manage it.”
Charlotte will host Marshall Saturday, Jan. 5 in another C-USA battle against a tough team. Tipoff is set for 4 p.m.