Alex Passannante

Alex is the Assistant Sports Editor for the Niner Times. He is pursuing a degree in Comm Mass Media, with a minor in Journalism.

Interview and a game of HORSE with Braxton Ogbueze

The Charlotte 49ers men’s basketball team did not meet expectations last season, in which they were picked to finish third in the pre-season Conference USA rankings. Fast forward to May, and things are very different around the program.

Alan Major and his staff were let go, making room for the splashy hire of former NBA great, Mark Price. The loss of multiple starters has also left scholarships open, which the new staff is currently working on finishing.

Who is left? Bernard Sullivan, Cameron Blakely, Ivan Benkovic and Braxton Ogbueze are the only returnees that saw a good amount of playing time last season.

We caught up with Ogbueze, who accepted my challenge to play a game of HORSE. We also talked about his former college coach, Billy Donovan, last season’s performance and the upcoming basketball season.

Lastly, I wanted to thank everyone for a tremendous year. I’ll be graduating in May, and this was one of the greatest experiences of my life. The Niner Times has treated me well, and Niner Nation even better.

Off-season transfers create turmoil for Charlotte basketball

College basketball programs shift and change every off-season. Once they play their last game, transfers and new recruits start to go into and out of the program.

In Charlotte’s case, there has been an abundance of transfers leaving the Queen City over the past couple of years.

Ever since Alan Major took over, players have transferred every single year. This off-season has been no different, even with the addition of new head coach Mark Price.

Not only is there an entire new coaching staff, but there are nearly no players coming back from the 2014-15 starting lineup.

Braxton Ogbueze, Cameron Blakely, Ivan Benkovic and Bernard Sullivan are the only players returning from last season that received notable playing time. Ogbueze is the only one of the four that started on last season’s team, averaging 9.6 points per game while shooting a dismal 34.7 percent from the floor in conference play.

Pierria Henry and Terrence Williams are graduating, and many others have transferred out of the program.

Keyshawn Woods, who led the team in 3-point shooting, has asked for his release from the program. Torin Dorn, who won the Conference USA Freshman of the Year award, has also asked for his release to explore other options.

Dorn and Woods, two local products from the Charlotte area, were viewed as the pillars for the future of the 49ers program after phenomenal freshman seasons. Dorn led the team in scoring with 12 points per game in his first collegiate season. Woods knocked down 46.6 percent of his shots from long range and looked poised to take over the starting point guard role from senior Pierria Henry next season.

Mike Thorne Jr., the 6 foot 11 center from Fayetteville, N.C., has announced that he will graduate early and transfer. Thorne Jr. received interest from several top 25 programs, including visits to Pittsburgh, Kansas, Illinois and an offer from John Calipari to join the Kentucky Wildcats.

Thorne Jr. announced that he will transfer to Illinois and play for the Fighting Illini next season. He said on twitter that he would like to stay at Charlotte, but that it wasn’t for him.

On April 9 Thorne Jr. tweeted, “People showed me there true colors so it was best 2 move on.” He is the only player to come out publicly and talk about leaving the program, while others haven’t officially announced their departure.

Big Mike averaged 10.1 points and 7.3 rebounds this season for the 49ers and has one more year of eligibility after redshirting as a freshman. After graduating this May, he will be immediately eligible to play for another university.

Willie Clayton is another big name to leave the program, averaging 7.3 points and 6.3 rebounds per game this season.

Despite having a big role in his first three seasons on the team, Clayton never played more than 16 minutes per game in his last five contests. The writing was on the wall for Clayton to transfer with the emergence of Thorne Jr. and the liability of Clayton’s offensive abilities.

Ebuka Izundu, the four-star prospect that committed to the 49ers back in November, has now de-committed. Jesse Pistocache, a guard from Texas, has also recently de-committed.

To say the least, Price and his new staff have a lot of work to do to restore the 49ers back to national prominence, and more importantly, the NCAA tournament.

The Niners haven’t been to the big dance in 10 years now, which is a fact that Niner Nation despises. Even though Price announced that his main goal was to get Charlotte back into the tournament, he will face an extreme up-hill battle with the departure of nearly every key player from last season’s squad.

Charlotte is losing 78.2 percent of their scoring from last season’s team that finished near the bottom of a lackluster Conference USA. The Niners are also losing their top five rebounders from a year ago, not to mention Henry who is the program’s all-time leader in assists and steals.

The one piece of good news for Price and his staff is that two four-star recruits return to the lineup this season in Sullivan and Ogbueze, giving the 49ers some sort of talent to work with next year.

Several scouts on Twitter have said that Price and his staff have been out recruiting in Atlanta and other AAU tournaments, which is something they’ll need to do plenty of this spring and summer.

Former assistant coach Desmond Oliver, who came on board with Major in 2010, was recently hired by the University of Tennessee to the same role. Former interim head coach Ryan Odom has garnered interest from several schools, most notably LSU.

While the previous staff was not successful in their goals, they always landed good recruits. This new staff will have to deal with getting fifth-year transfers to help Charlotte start their rebuilding phase.

One thing is for sure; Niner Nation is running out of patience with nothing but bad news coming out of the program for the past decade. The hiring of Price was a big splash, but it’s time for this program to get back to their winning fashion and return to prominence.

49ers Track & Field finds success at Charlotte Invitational

Alvonna Blakney (Center) leads the way for Charlotte in the 100 meter hurdles. Photo by Chris Crews.
Alvonna Blakney (Center) leads the way for Charlotte in the 100 meter hurdles. Photo by Chris Crews.

The Charlotte 49ers track & field team hosts a few outdoor meets per season, which is one of the biggest advantages you can possibly have when competing. There’s nothing better than doing your event at the same venue that you practice at.

The Niners finished strong in the Charlotte Invitational, hosted at the Belk Track and Field Center on Friday and Saturday with plenty of good performances. While these meets are individually based, every placement is ranked towards the outdoor Conference USA (C-USA) meet, held in El Paso, Texas in the middle of May.

Head coach Robert Oleson talked about how his team performed, saying that it was successful all around.

“The Charlotte Invitational was a great success with generally good conditions; no rain although some erratic winds that hampered some events,” Oleson said.

“We had numerous season and personal bests and I believe the visiting teams had very positive results as well. In the women’s hammer throw alone we had four lifetime bests representing four of the top six throwers at Charlotte. The meet was a good step forward for us overall as we tune up the team entering the latter portion of the regular season.”

Among those season-best performances were Toby Jo Klauenberg, who went 44-09 in the shot put to win third place. Tre McRae finished first in the high jump with a leap of 7-.05 which ranks first in C-USA.

Joann Blakney won the 100 and 200 meters, which is something she does often. She currently ranks third in the conference in the 100, and seventh in the conference in the 200. Another member of the women’s side, T’Shelia Mungo, currently ranks second in the conference in the 400 meter race.

The 49ers will travel to two meets next weekend, with those who qualify going to the Penn Relays in Philadelphia, PA. For those who don’t qualify, the remainder will travel to Radford to take part in the Highlander Invitational.

Photos by Chris Crews and Makeedah Baker.

Mark Price announced as men’s basketball head coach

New Mens Basketball Head Coach Mark Price and Norm the Niner. Photo by Chris Crews
New Men’s Basketball Head Coach Mark Price and Norm the Niner. Photo by Chris Crews

Mark Price is a well-known name in the basketball community; his 12-year NBA career was full of awards and accolades, including all-star games, first-team selections and the second best career free throw percentage in NBA history (.904).

Price isn’t just a well-respected name in basketball, but he’s also the new head coach of the Charlotte 49ers men’s basketball team.

In order to revive a once thriving team and fan base, a high-profile name like Price is a hire intended to spark a positive fire in the national spot light. Price is most well-known recently for completely reconstructing Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s jump shot. Price has coached in the NBA since 2006, spending time with the Memphis Grizzlies, Atlanta Hawks, Orlando Magic, Golden State Warriors and most recently, the Charlotte Hornets.

On accepting the position, Price mentioned that he was in the right place at the right time.

“The first good and right opportunity for me was in Charlotte,” said Price.

“I didn’t know the job was open and Judy Rose called me. We began discussions a couple of weeks ago and I saw the potential here. Many of you will go home and watch the Sweet 16 tonight, and my hope is that we’ll be seen in the Sweet 16 and on TV shortly.”

Price also talked about how it was a perfect fit to allow his family to stay in the Charlotte area with his son finishing out high school.

Both Rose and Chancellor Phillip DuBois were adamant that Price was the right guy for the job. Despite Will Wade from UT Chattanooga and LeVelle Moton from NC Central being rumored as candidates, only one person was the right choice.

“He’s the only person we offered the job to and the only person that accepted the job,” said Rose, who hired the 10th men’s basketball coach in the history of Charlotte.

Price’s only head coaching experience comes from the Australiasian National Basketball League where he coached the South Dragons for one season. Besides that, Rose and the 49ers have given Price his first chance at a true head coaching experience.

Former head coach Alan Major and Price are distinguishable in many ways. Price had an incredible playing career in the NBA with accolades of being a 4-time all-star, 1st team all-NBA, part of the Dream Team II and having his jersey retired by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Price is also a big name that gets people excited, whereas Major was virtually unknown by non-basketball junkies.

It was apparent from the start of the press conference that Niner Nation is happy with the hire, with Price getting a 15 second standing ovation.

In taking over the program, Price is inheriting a 49ers team in a completely different state than when Major took it over. In 2010 Major took over at a school that thrived on basketball and played in a conference, the A-10, which was basketball based.

Fast forward to 2015, and the 49ers have a football team and are in the weaker basketball conference of Conference USA. It’s a challenge to recruit players to play in half empty arenas at Rice and Middle Tennessee compared to Temple, UMass, VCU and Butler.

Something Price will immediately have to deal with is players transferring. Willie Clayton and Mike Thorne Jr. are rumored to be leaving and were not at the press conference today. The only other player missing was Keyshawn Woods, who had a successful freshman year shooting 47 percent from 3-point range this season.

Another concern for Price and his staff is rejuvenating the fed up fan base that has dealt with 10 straight seasons without going to the NCAA Tournament. Halton Arena saw record-low attendance numbers under Major and multiple games of empty upper-bowls. Regarding student attendance, Price said that it’s a huge point of importance for him.

“We need a product on the floor that’s exciting and we need to add some defense and identity. I want to go out and meet the students and walk around. The facilities you have here are tremendous. This is a hidden gem in Charlotte.”

Major, who came from Ohio State and developed several lottery picks like Greg Oden, Evan Turner and Mike Conley, was a good candidate on paper. He struggled with keeping players on the team, having key athletes transfer out after every failed season. Major also personally struggled with his health, taking two medical leave of absences including surgeries on his eyes and heart.

Price confirmed on The Fan 610 WFNZ that he has hired two coaches for his staff, Chris Ferguson from Oklahoma State and Houston Fancher, most recently at Appalachian State. When the rest of the staff is confirmed, the Niner Times will provide updates.

No. 20 Florida Atlantic defeats 49ers baseball

Charlotte struggled on the mound in game one on Saturday. Photo by Ben Robson.
Charlotte struggled on the mound in game one on Saturday. Photo by Ben Robson.

Coming off a four game losing streak and sweep by No. 10 Rice, the Charlotte 49ers (4-8, 0-3) looked to get back into the win column against No. 20 Florida Atlantic (16-3, 1-0). They weren’t able to get the win due to giving up 13 hits and eight runs.

Things were quiet until the top of the second, when FAU’s CJ Chatham batted in a double to score their first run. The Owls followed up with a good defensive bottom of the inning, getting a double play and striking out Alex Reynolds to finish it off. FAU looked confident while heading into the top of the third.

The 49ers followed with a quick inning, retiring all three batters in order. Things were calm for a few innings, with Brett Netzer getting a single for Charlotte’s second hit. In the top of the 5th inning, FAU got their second run thanks to Brett Lashley.

The 49ers responded right away, with Brad Elwood swinging for a single and advancing to second base. Despite the fast start, the 49ers couldn’t get any more players on base and ended with zero runs. Redshirt sophomore Sean Geoghegan really struggled on the mound, giving up seven hits and hitting two batters all by the top of the sixth.

After hitting his second batter, the 49ers paused the game to give Geoghegan a pep talk, but it didn’t work. He gave up a bases-clearing double to Ryan Miller, extending the deficit to 5-0.

At the start of the 7th inning, the 49ers tried their luck with a new pitcher. Geoghegan was taken out and replaced by Brandon Vogler. Geoghegan gave up 10 hits and allowed a season-high five runs. Within five pitches, Vogler gave up his first run to make the lead 6-1. On the very next pitch, FAU scored on another single.

Even more runs went in Florida Atlantic’s favor, with them going up 8-1 at the top of the eighth. Charlotte wasn’t able to establish any sort of pace or momentum with only four hits deep into the game. Derek Gallello was able to single to first in the bottom of the eighth, followed by a single from Zach Jarrett that scored Netzer. While shrinking the deficit, the 49ers still had an uphill battle to fight with a big deficit.

Charlotte couldn’t finish the comeback and dropped their fifth straight game. FAU won their first conference game of the season and Kyle Miller got his third win.

Men’s Basketball ends season in first round of conference tournament

Another year, another disappointing season for the Charlotte 49ers men’s basketball team.

In Alan Major’s fifth year as head coach, his team has once again failed to win the conference tournament and get a bid to the NCAA Tournament. Charlotte (14-18, 7-11) fell to Middle Tennessee today, 63-60.

In a season that was full of “what if”, it has turned out to be “what was”; the talent on this team could have led to the big dance but failed to get past the first round of the Conference USA (CUSA) tournament. Seniors Pierria Henry and Terrence Williams end their college careers as having one post season appearance in four years, a NIT visit to Providence, resulting in a loss.

One of the more disappointing performances all year was Braxton Ogbueze, a four-star transfer from Florida. He averaged 5.6 points and 1.6 assists while shooting 24.2 percent in his last five games of the season. This includes two points last game and zero tonight. Two of the five starters for Charlotte had four points or less tonight, with Williams having a stat line of four points and six turnovers.

Henry, Mike Thorne Jr. and Torin Dorn had good nights, with Thorne Jr. having a double-double. Dorn, who was named CUSA Freshman of the year, had 17 points in his first career conference tournament game.

The game started as a grudge match, with the 49ers having the lead by one point after two of the three media timeouts. Dorn, Henry and Thorne Jr. were the catalysts in the beginning, but Henry was taken out multiple times which stalled Charlotte’s pace and momentum.

With the game remaining deadlocked at the end of the first half, Henry took the ball and swished a half court shot to give the 49ers 30-29 lead on a buzzer-beater 3-pointer. The 49ers went into the locker room with confidence, but lacked the push that was needed to pull away from the Blue Raiders.

In the second half, Middle Tennessee got out to a lead that was as high as seven points at one point. Charlotte fought back and tied the game thanks to baskets from Bernard Sullivan, Keyshawn Woods and Thorne Jr. The game was a battle towards the end, with Charlotte having a 60-58 lead after two Thorne Jr. layups with 1:23 remaining on the clock.

With Charlotte having a two point lead, Perrin Buford from the Blue Raiders made a jumper to tie the game. On their next possession, Reggie Upshaw converted on a huge dunk to give them the lead and final basket of the game. Giddy Potts added a free throw with nine seconds left to make the lead three points. On the final possession of Charlotte’s season, Williams had a good look on a 3-pointer, but missed as the buzzer rang.

With another season ending early in March, this marks the tenth straight year that Charlotte has failed to make it to the NCAA Tournament. If any news comes out of the athletic department regarding staff changes or student-athlete transfers, the Niner Times will have updates throughout.

Henry, Williams end on home high note for 49ers Basketball

Seniors. Photo by Chris Crews.
Seniors Terrence Williams and Pierria Henry combined for 29 points against Marshall in their last regular season game. Photo by Chris Crews.

Seniors Terrance Williams and Pierria Henry came to UNC Charlotte as head coach Alan Major’s first full recruiting class. After three seasons together, they’ve accomplished one post-season run with a first round loss in the NIT. With one conference tournament remaining for the two seniors, tonight was a stepping stone to what they eventually want to accomplish. Charlotte came into the game as the highest scoring team in CUSA, but also the team that gives up the most points defensively.

Play opened with the 49ers winning the tip but turning the ball over immediately. Charlotte finally scored after a few possessions thanks to Torin Dorn. In the first four minutes, Mike Thorne Jr. went 1-5 from the field for only two points; this really hindered the 49ers from establishing an offensive pace in the beginning of the game.

After only a few minutes, the 49ers trailed 17-6 while Braxton Ogbueze, the transfer from Florida, missed a shot and gave up two straight baskets. At the second media timeout, the Thundering Herd led 20-11. Austin Loop led Marshall with nine points off three open 3-pointers.

The 49ers started to turn on the heat after the under-12 timeout. They want on a 9-0 run with most points coming from freshman Keyshawn Woods and Williams. After the third media timeout, the Thundering Herd went on a small run of their own to tie the game at 32-32.

Henry Dunk. Photo by Chris Crews.
In the final minute of the first half, Henry posterized DeVince Boykins on a one-handed slam. Photo by Chris Crews.

In the final minute of the first half, Henry took the ball in the open court on the fast break, as he’s done many times before. This time, he posterized DeVince Boykins on a one-handed slam to pump up Halton Arena louder than it was all game. On the next possession, Thorne Jr. got a dunk of his own. The 49ers went into halftime with a 37-32 lead. Despite Ogbueze, Williams and Thorne Jr combining to go 4-22 from the field, Woods picked up the slack by leading the team with nine points.

The second half started off the opposite way for Charlotte, who jumped out to an early run and forced a Marshall timeout. Henry followed the timeout with a 3-pointer and lay up on two straight possessions. Charlotte got out to a 53-46 lead and Bernard Sullivan made that lead two points higher. On the next play Ryan Taylor, a red shirt sophomore, injured his ankle; things weren’t looking too good for the Thundering Herd mid-way through the second half.

With the under eight media timeout, the 49ers led 67-57. Ivan Benkovic came in to hit another 3-pointer, but the 49ers had trouble stopping Loop, who had 19 points at the time. Williams hit his first 3-pointer of the night followed by a lay up to give him 14 points. At the next media timeout, Charlotte led 74-61.

Things never slowed down for the 49ers; they defeated the Thundering Herd 86-73 to conclude the 2014-15 season at Halton Arena. Henry led the way with 19 points and eight rebounds, but had a lot of promises in the post game presser. For the second time this season, Henry promised a CUSA championship win.

“Y’all are gonna see us cut down those nets. That’s the only way it’s going to end for us.”

Interim head coach Ryan Odom reiterated Henry’s confidence, saying that this is great for next week’s objective.

“Rebounding was tremendous and we forced a lot of misses. We’re tough to stop in transition and when we can get first time rebounds, we have a lot of options in transition.”

Thorne Jr., Williams, Sullivan, Henry and Woods all scored in double-digits, but Sullivan turned in his highest output of the season; 12 points and three rebounds. After sitting out most of the season with a concussion, tonight’s performance was the best of his collegiate career when it comes to points.

Terrance Williams talked about his feelings after the game regarding his last home game. He said how much he’s enjoyed it and how fast it has gone.

“It’s tough. We love playing here and we gave it our all. We want to go out as winners and our teammates helped us out a lot. It’s nothing but love for us.”

The 49ers (14-17, 7-11) will take the court next on Wednesday, Mar. 11. The opponent and time are pending completion of the remaining games in the conference.

Photos by Chris Crews.

Hopeful Henry reflects on his career

Pierria Henry defends Miami's Angel Rodriguez at half court. Photo by Ben Robson.
Pierria Henry defends Miami’s Angel Rodriguez at half court. Photo by Ben Robson.

Pierria Henry is the senior leader of Charlotte 49ers basketball, a program that has fallen under hard times as of late. Before the season, the 49ers were predicted to finish third in Conference USA.

Fast forward to late February and the team is third from last. Despite all of the negativity from fans, alumni and students with the disappointing record put out this season, Henry thinks that they’re just starting to hit their mark. Following the North Carolina A&T game, he made a promise that Charlotte would win the C-USA tournament in Birmingham, Ala. next month.

“My word is my bond. The way that we played the number one team (Louisiana Tech) and their coach talking about how no one wants to play us gives us so much confidence. Once we get that rhythm at the end and keep on rolling, it’s going to make the season longer.”

Fans in Halton Arena have long applauded Pierria for his tenacity on the court. In high school, he was a big football recruit, getting an offer from Marshall University to play both football and basketball. While the Thundering Herd is a prominent program in West Virginia, Henry wanted to get away from home and focus on basketball. Even though he picked the orange ball instead of the pigskin, it looks as if Henry is the quarterback on the court for the 49ers.

Henry has accomplished several feats while in the Queen City. He’s accumulated 289 steals, 549 assists (all-time program records) and has scored over 1,000 points in his career. As a four year starter he’s done a lot, but hasn’t done everything he’s wanted. There’s still the NCAA tournament to play in, which the 49ers haven’t done since 2005.

“I haven’t expected this much adversity, but I know as long as I lead the team along with Terrence (Williams), we would be okay. I want my name to hang from the arena more than I want to breathe. It’s nice to know that I made a mark here, but I still have so much more to do for this place.”

Scouts around the country have heard Henry’s name, but it certainly doesn’t help that the 49ers aren’t a nationally recognized team at the moment. James Blackburn, Director of Scouting for Basketball Elite, says that Henry is a special talent.

Henry soars for a game-sealing dunk during the 2013 homecoming game against UMass. Photo by Chris Crews.
Henry soars for a game-sealing dunk during the 2013 homecoming game against UMass. Photo by Chris Crews.

“I have had the opportunity to watch Henry play multiple times. He is a terrific passer and floor general, good defender and has active hands. I doubt he is an NBA guy because of his offensive liabilities, but he’s a great candidate for the NBDL and the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament. He’ll be playing professionally next year, it’s just tough to say where.”

Henry loves competing more than the sport of basketball itself. Against Davidson, Charlotte’s biggest rival, the 49ers were down by double digits in the last couple minutes. Henry was diving everywhere on the court and led the team in rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. His team lost the game, but he never put his head down and gave up. When talking about the fire behind his play, Henry was adamant that his mother is the main catalyst.

“The reason I wear number 15 is because it’s my mother’s birthday. I would love for no one to wear this number again because no one has put in as much time and effort as I have. I’ve been blessed with the mindset, talent and skills to succeed.”

When talking about Henry’s effort Charlotte fans fondly reminisce back to the 2013 Atlantic 10 tournament in Brooklyn, N.Y. When trailing by five points with a few seconds left, Henry made eight free throws to defeat Richmond. In the next game against St. Louis, he had to go to the hospital after suffering a bruised trachea. Times like these are what Henry wants to be remembered as; hard-working, a good leader and a lock-down defender. Unfortunately, that season’s NIT trip is the only time he’s experienced the postseason in college.

While Henry is averaging almost 10 points, 5.2 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game, he is also shooting 25 percent from 3-point range and turning the ball over 2.3 times a game. He realizes that there is more to work on, but winning is the priority.

“I definitely want to improve turnovers and shooting but it’s about getting in that zone and trusting my mechanics. The main thing I want to do is let this team know that no matter what happens, it’s a great life experience. Fighting in practice and going to class after getting back to Charlotte at 3 a.m. is all part of the deal. I want to teach them in the ins and outs and give them everything I have so they can do the same to the next generation.”

Life after UNC Charlotte seems like an eternity from now, but Henry said that family triumphs anything on the basketball court.

“I want to live a simple life. I miss my family and want to get close with them again; I’ve missed out on a lot. Wherever basketball takes me, it takes me. I’m not sweating it; if I end it here, then I end it here.”

Men’s basketball falls to Louisiana Tech in overtime

Braxon Ogbueze led the team with 16 points. Photo by Chris Crews.

Coming off a win against UTSA, the Charlotte 49ers returned home to host the Bulldogs of Louisiana Tech. While they put up a good fight, the 49ers fell victim to their third overtime loss of the season.

The game started with a dunk from Pierria Henry, who was awarded before the game for achieving the all-time assists record at Charlotte. Henry got the easy dunk off the jump-ball.

La Tech, who is in first place in Conference USA, is a fast and aggressive team that loves to run up and down the floor. Luckily for Charlotte, they play a similar way. At the first media timeout, the 49ers trailed 9-7, but had a technical foul shot coming after the TO.

Following the media timeout, La Tech scored several baskets after Charlotte’s first unit was taken out. When the bench players were put in, Charlotte’s tempo decreased and they started to get out-hustled. At the second media timeout, the 49ers were losing 16-10 due to a 7-0 run from the Bulldogs.

The 49ers had a tough time scoring after the under 12 timeout, going on a three-minute scoring drought. With eight minutes left, Henry finally stopped it with a lay up plus the free throw. Following that, Willie Clayton got a lay up to force the first Bulldog timeout of the game.

With the crowd into the game and cheering louder than ever, the 49ers got into a big run with baskets from Ogbueze, Williams and Henry. After a small run from the Bulldogs, the game went into halftime with La Tech having a four point lead, 33-29. Henry had eight points, three assists and three rebounds. Alex Hamilton had 13 points for the Bulldogs.

The second half started the same as the first did, with La Tech winning the battle but the 49ers staying in the fight. At the first media timeout, the 49ers trailed 39-35. Ogbueze hit a big 3-pointer followed by a Thorne Jr. lay up to cut the deficit to one point. The Bulldogs responded with an alley-oop from Xavier Stapleton raising it back up to five points.

At the second media timeout, the 49ers trailed by three points with Willie Clayton missing two free throws. Following the misses, a Keyshawn Woods 3-pointer tied the game at 48-48, prompting a timeout from La Tech.

Despite the solid play from the 49ers, the Bulldogs never gave up. Following a Henry turnover, La Tech responded with a lay up on the other end to put their lead up to 61-56. After several baskets from Williams and Clayton, Charlotte trailed 65-63 with 3:47 to go in regulation.

The 49ers regained the lead at 67-65 from an Ogbueze lay up and extended their lead to 69-65 after a Henry lay up. La Tech called a timeout to regroup with 2:11 left on the clock.

Pierria Henry finished with 14 points while also having a game high eight assists. Photo by Chris Crews.
Pierria Henry, who was honored with a game ball for setting the career assists record before the game, finished with a game high eight assists and 14 points. Photo by Chris Crews.

With a minute left, Michale Kyser had a put-back dunk to shrink their deficit by one, 72-71. The 49ers had a small lead with the clock ticking down. Hamilton missed a lay up with 14 seconds left, giving the 49ers the ball. Williams was fouled and made one of two shots, giving La Tech the ball back with 13.5 seconds left and a two point deficit.

Kenneth Smith got the ball, drove down the floor and made a lay up to tie the game at 73 all. With two seconds left in regulation, Clayton missed a shot from the block, resulting in overtime.

In the first play of overtime, Appleby got straight to the hoop and made an easy lay up. Charlotte responded with getting two free throws out of Thorne Jr; he made only one of them.

The Bulldogs got a huge lift from Hamilton, who had two straight baskets in the paint to get their lead to 79-74. Thorne Jr. was able to cut it to 79-76, but a Henry missed lay-up kept the score there for a while. With 12 seconds left, Woods hoisted up a 3-pointer and missed; the Bulldogs got the ball back and made both free throws. On the next possession, Ogbueze made a 3-pointer to cut the 49ers’ deficit to 81-79.

Appleby made both free throws and Henry made a 3-pointer at the buzzer, but it didn’t matter. The 49ers fell to the Bulldogs, 83-82. The big difference was free throw percentage; La Tech shot 94 percent while the 49ers shot 54 percent.

Louisiana Tech head coach Michael White after the game how he’s content with the win.

“We were very, very fortunate to win that game. Charlotte was teriffic and hats off to Ryan (Odom) and the rest of their staff. These guys have faced incredible adversity and for them to play as hard as they do is impressive.”

Five players from the 49ers scored in double-digits, led by Ogbueze with 16 points. Henry had another solid game with 14 points, eight assists and five rebounds.

Regarding his team’s effort, Charlotte interim head coach Ryan Odom said that he’s not into moral victories, but there were several positives to take away from this.

“We had a lot of great team and individual plays. As you get into the game, you realize that their defense is very good. We felt like we could do a good job on the glass, but they out rebounded us. The speed of the game was good but it never feels good to lose.”

When talking about the game and post-season implications, Odom said that it won’t keep them from moving forward.

“Certainly (we let one get away) but we won’t define ourself on one game. Our league is going to come down to March in Birmingham and our guys know they’re playing well right now.”

Charlotte will have one day of rest, followed by another home game against Southern Miss on Saturday, Feb. 21 at 5:30 p.m.

Photos by Chris Crews.

Men’s Basketball falls to Old Dominion

Following a lackluster start to conference play, the 49ers came into Old Dominion tonight with their heads held high after defeating NC A&T last Wednesday. In front of a loud and rowdy crowd, the Monarchs were able to come away with the narrow victory against the 49ers.

The game started with the 49ers winning the tip but missing on their first shot. After some sloppy play by both teams, Charlotte earned their first lead of the game from a Braxton Ogbueze 3-pointer.

At the first media timeout, the 49ers trailed 9-7, but Ogbueze made another deep shot when play resumed; him and Torin Dorn were very successful in the beginning of the first half, having six points each before the second media timeout.

At the second media timeout, the 49ers were shooting 69 percent from the field on 9-13 shots. With the under-8 timeout, Charlotte led 25-18 and sucked the life out of the crowd. Bernard Sullivan came in early and blocked a shot, followed by making a jumper on the offensive end.

Charlotte fell into a slump, going on nearly a three minute scoring drought. With two minutes left in the first half, the 49ers only had a three point lead. The Monarchs went on a 9-0 run and never cooled off.

Where as the 49ers usually start slow and end the half on a strong note, the opposite happened in the beginning of the game tonight. Charlotte ended the half on a 4:19 drought while ODU was on a 12-0 run.

The second half didn’t relieve the 49ers from their first half troubles, turning the ball over in their first two possessions. After two minutes, Dorn was able to score the ball followed by a Willie Clayton layup.

After five minutes, the Monarchs were hitting most of their shots and got out to a four point lead, 38-34. Henry and Dorn converted on two layups to tie the game at 38 all, but failed to play hard on defense, giving up four unanswered points.

After another four minute scoring drought, the 49ers finally got a point on the board from a Henry free throw. At the under 12 timeout, Charlotte trailed 44-39.

Following the 49ers lack of scoring, the Monarchs went on their own six minute drought. Sullivan was able to connect on a huge jam, but followed that with a scream at the other team; he was given a technical and ODU went on a 6-0 run following that.

With 2:24 left on the clock, the 49ers trailed 54-49. While fighting for a rebound, Clayton was called for a loose ball foul to which he argued. He was then given a technical foul, making that his fifth and marking the end of the night for him.

Interim head coach Ryan Odom talked about the technicals, saying that they have to control themselves more.

“Bernard’s was for taunting, and we had something similar earlier in the season. It’s hard to argue with the referees about it. You just have to adjust and move on. Willie’s was automatic because he slammed the ball down.”

After missed shots and fouls from the 49ers, the Monarchs were able to come away with the win, 61-57.

The 49ers had 18 turnovers tonight, compared to ODU’s six. Odom said that this statistic was a huge factor.

“They got 55 shots and we got 47. That’s a big difference and they got 14 points off our turnovers. In a possession game like that, those are really big.”

The 49ers (10-13, 3-7) will return to the court to face the University of Texas El Paso on Feb. 12 at 9 p.m.

Charlotte breezes past North Carolina A&T

Pierria Henry
“I want to be remembered for being on a championship team. More than anything, I want to be hanging from the ceiling in Halton Arena” – Pierria Henry. Photo by Chris Crews.

Pierria Henry has accomplished a lot in his career at Charlotte (10-12); one thing he hasn’t done however, is make the NCAA Tournament. After tonight’s blowout win against North Carolina A&T (6-18), spirits were high, including Henry’s when he talked about how far this team can go.

“I want to be remembered for being on a championship team. More than anything, I want to be hanging from the ceiling in Halton Arena. I want to have a banner that says NCAA 2015. We will win the conference tournament.”

While the next reporter was going to ask a question, Henry called my name again and reiterated his promise; “We will win this conference.”

The game started with the 49ers (10-12) winning the tip, but unable to score on the first play. Steven Burrough from A&T was able to put the ball in the basket for their first lead of the game, followed by a 3-pointer from Artus Bremers. Braxton Ogbueze was the catalyst in the beginning for the 49ers, scoring all five of their points. He would finish with a game-high 18.

At the first media timeout, the 49ers trailed 12-5 while shooting 20 percent from the field. Despite NC A&T having a bad season with a 6-17 record coming into the game, most teams are able to get an early advantage on them due to lethargic play in the first 10-15 minutes of the game.

Coming out of the timeout, Charlotte went on almost a four minute scoring drought until Keyshawn Woods converted on a layup. At the second media timeout, Charlotte trailed 15-7. Bruce Beckford, who was fourth in the conference in scoring, had five points and two rebounds.

It took more than halfway through the first half, but the 49ers finally established a pace and went on a 9-0 run. At the third media timeout, they lead 19-18 thanks to baskets from 3-point specialist, Ivan Benkovic.

After the hot shooting, Charlotte fell right back into the drought, going two for their last eight field goal attempts. Even though the 49ers couldn’t buy any baskets, they led 26-25 at under-four timeout.

The 49ers returned to their lackadaisical play when nearing halftime, giving up easy baskets to the Aggies and especially their leading scorer, Beckford, who had 12 points at the half. Leading the 49ers at half was Ogbueze with 10 points.

There were a lot of boos coming from the stands in Halton Arena while going into halftime, making the 49ers get enough fight in them to come out strong in the second half.

Bernard Sullivan
Bernard Sullivan returned to his best game as a 49er with nine points and four boards. Photo by Chris Crews.

About halftime, Odom said, “I really didn’t tell them anything special, just that they need to run faster than before. They took it upon themselves and played unselfish. We impacted them with pressure and dug some balls out with a faster pace.”

Charlotte came out in the second half on a 7-0 run, forcing a timeout right away from Aggies head coach, Cy Alexander.

Charlotte continued their hard play, forcing turnovers with their full-court trap defense. After another timeout, Charlotte led 46-38. Most importantly, Henry notched the all-time assist leader in Charlotte history to go along with being a 1000 point scorer and first in school history in steals.

Charlotte never let go of their lead, keeping the buckets coming from players like Ogbueze, Thorne Jr. and Bernard Sullivan. With 12 minutes left in regulation, the 49ers had a 56-44 advantage.

Sullivan, who has sat most of the year with concussions, returned tonight to his best game as a 49er. After catching an alley-oop from Henry, he had nine points and four boards.

Charlotte’s hustle in the second half made the Aggies really struggle when it came to putting points on the board. Beckford, who had a big first half, only had four points in the second half.

Charlotte walked to the finish line, defeating the Aggies easily, 77-61. Odom spoke about how his team finished off, saying how he wants to see his team play faster more often.

“Our guys did a great job in the second half. We controlled the pace and began to pressure. We can’t play at a frenetic rate for 40 minutes so we pick and choose when to do it.”

A nice addition to the team tonight was Sullivan, who finished with nine points and five rebounds in only 17 minutes. Odom said that they will use him when possible and raved about his demeanor.

“He brings a calmness, leadership and experience. He’s played in high-level ACC games. We’re pleased to have him out there and he’s earned it. He’s physical and athletic.”

The 49ers will take to the road for a tough three game trip, starting Saturday, Feb. 7 at Old Dominion at 7:00 p.m.

Photos by Chris Crews and Ben Coon.

49ers comeback attempt falls short against FIU

Torin Dorn. Photo by Ben Coon.
Torin Dorn posterized an FIU defender in the first half, bringing a lethargic Halton Arena to life. Photo by Ben Coon.

Following a blowout win against Florida Atlantic on Thursday, the Charlotte 49ers looked to continue their winning streak against another team from the Sunshine State. Despite a late comeback attempt, the 49ers fell to the Panthers of Florida International.

Braxton Ogbueze opened the game with a 3-pointer, but scoring was hard to come by early on. After multiple misses and turnovers from each side, Torin Dorn got the lead on a fast break and posterized an FIU defender, making Halton Arena erupt in cheer. For the first time all night, the building had some life and the players seemed to feed off it.

At the first media timeout, Charlotte led 12-8 thanks to several baskets from Dorn, Mike Thorne Jr. and Ogbueze. Dennis Mavin, Conference USA’s leading scorer coming into the game, had four points.

Following the successful first four minutes, interim head coach Ryan Odom substituted out several starters like Pierria Henry and Ogubeze, inserting bench players in, which seemed to ruin the pace that was established in the first few minutes. Despite this, Charlotte still had a small lead, 15-13 at the second media timeout.

While leaving in several bench players like Ivan Benkovic and Cameron Blakely, the 49ers went to a 2-3 zone and got torched by a hot FIU team who couldn’t miss from deep. They were 5-8 from deep range with five minutes to go in the first half, forcing Charlotte to go back to man-to-man defense. After the starters were put back in, the Panthers were too hot to miss. FIU went on a run where they scored on five of their last seven shots and established a 38-31 lead at the last media timeout.

The Panthers continued their red-hot shooting and went on a 6-0 run to knock their lead to 13 points at halftime. FIU, who only averages 61.7 points per game, had 44 in the first half while shooting 64 percent from the field. Mavin had 19 points in the first half on 8-11 shooting.

Braxton Ogbueze had his best home scoring performance of the season with 18 points in the niners’ 78-70 loss. Photo by Chris Crews.

The second half started out in FIU’s favor, with Charlotte only scoring six points in the first four minutes. Henry, who recently broke the all-time steal record at Charlotte, was extremely quiet in the first half with zero points, one rebound and five assists.

FIU head coach, Anthony Evans, called a timeout after the 49ers went on a run. FIU finally started missing, going 1-7 from the field while Charlotte scored six points. Mavin, who was hot in the first half, was held scoreless in the first nine minutes of the second half.

With seven minutes left, Charlotte picked up their pace and shrunk the deficit to 12 points, 69-57. Coming out of the media timeout, the 49ers trapped full court and Henry got his first basket, nearly 34 minutes into the game. The 49ers went on an 11-0 run in the next few minutes, cutting the deficit to 69-64.

Despite the late comeback attempt, Charlotte couldn’t complete their aspirations, falling 78-70 to the FIU Panthers. Ogubeze led the 49ers in points with 18 and Thorne Jr. had 16 points and seven rebounds.

Despite his best scoring performance at home this season, Ogbueze said that there was one main thing he wanted the most.

“The most important thing is who gets the win, that’s the biggest thing to look at. If it’s anything less than a win, then we need to improve on something.”

FIU came into the game shooting 27.5 percent from 3-point range, but shot 62 percent tonight against a lethargic Charlotte defense. Coach Odom said that it didn’t matter what defense they played, FIU continued to make shots.

“Not the outcome we had hoped for. They shot the deep ball very well. The combination of them making outside shots plus points in the paint led them to victory. We played 1-3-1 in the first half and man to man, but their transition offense is what got us.

The Charlotte 49ers (9-12, 3-6) return to Halton Arena on Wednesday, Feb. 4 to face North Carolina A&T (6-17).

Photos by Ben Coon and Chris Crews.

Men’s Basketball escapes losing streak with home victory

Charlotte Men’s Basketball has had a rough season so far. Underperforming and multiple losses have highlighted the slate, but tonight was far from the norm, with Charlotte blowing past the Owls of Florida Atlantic by 25 points.

Before the game, senior guard Pierria Henry was recognized for a special feat; the all-time steals record in Charlotte 49ers history with 271.

Florida Atlantic, who broke a four game losing streak with a win against Marshall on Jan. 17, came into the contest with an 8-8 record.

Charlotte opened the game with the first points of the game from a Henry free throw. Mike Thorne Jr. followed with two straight hooks. After multiple turnovers from each side and a lethargic pace, Charlotte trailed 9-7 at the first media timeout. Thorne Jr. led with four points and one rebound.

After the media timeout, Charlotte refused to pick their pace up and make a consistent effort, resulting in a two point deficit at 17-15. Torin Dorn came in and provided some energy, with four points and four rebounds.

With a little under seven minutes left, the 49ers picked up their pace thanks to Henry and Keyshawn Woods, who provided seven points together. The Owls committed two straight turnovers and couldn’t handle Henry and the height of Charlotte’s guards. While leading into the under eight timeout, Charlotte was on an 8-2 run and led 25-21.

The last few minutes of the half was where the 49ers started to put on the pressure. Ivan Benkovic provided some scoring and hustle while Henry ran the offense without any opposition. Charlotte scored on six of their last eight field goal attempts while FAU was on a three minute scoring drought. Charlotte led 36-24 at the last media timeout.

Charlotte ended the half on a strong note, forcing FAU into long shots and multiple turnovers. The Owls made only two of their last 14 shots and were on a 2:33 minute scoring drought at halftime, where the 49ers led 41-25.

The second half opened up with Marquan Botley making a contested jumpshot, but the 49ers didn’t shy away due to multiple layups from Clayton. Following a slight drought, the 49ers went on a tear and scored six points in one minute thanks to Henry having two steals and multiple assists.

Charlotte was sticking to their strength, which was getting the ball in the paint. The Owls had a lot of difficulty in stopping Thorne Jr. and Clayton, who made both contested and open shots in the paint.

At the second media timeout, Charlotte exploded for a 62-37 lead while on a 21-12 run. The 49ers made eight of their last nine while FAU was on almost a four minute scoring draught. Charlotte never let their foot off the pedal and continued to drive down to the paint.

Even though Henry didn’t score a lot tonight, his presence was certainly felt while playing defense. Michael Curry, Florida Atlantic’s head coach, said that he was a huge factor in the end result.

“Henry is very unselfish and doesn’t score as much as he can score. He single-handedly disrupted what we wanted to do.”

With five minutes left in regulation, Bernard Sullivan, the transfer from Clemson, checked into the game for the first time in his career at Charlotte. He landed his first basket from a left-handed hook nearly 30 seconds into his substitution. Sullivan sat out every game of the 2014-15 season due to multiple concussions, but dressed tonight after sitting out every game of the season thus far.

Interim head coach Ryan Odom said that Sullivan could have sat out this year, but the process of getting a sixth year of eligibility wasn’t worth the risk.

“Bernard doesn’t play for himself, he plays for the team. He’s doing his best in practice and has been on the scout team. We’re excited that he wants to play this year and forgo the medical waiver later on.”

When asked if Sullivan will receive more minutes as the conference games roll along, Odom said that it hasn’t been decided yet.

“It’ll be based on practices and how he progresses, but nothing has been determined at this point.”

The game ended in the 49ers favor with a 86-61 victory. breaking a three-game losing streak. Charlotte was led by Clayton, who had 19 points and seven rebounds. Thorne Jr. had 14 points and seven boards. Terrance Williams had 10 points and six rebounds.

After the game, Odom reiterated that his team played up to par tonight.

“It was a total team effort tonight, no one logged over 30 minutes. This game was won for us after we lost at Middle Tennessee. The team was very upset and ready to get back to work. Our attitude and effort this week was tremendous.”

Charlotte (9-11, 3-5) returns to Halton Arena to face Florida International (9-10, 2-4) at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 31.

49ers fall again on the road

Fans have wanted the Charlotte 49ers coaching staff to change the lineup for a long time, and they got their wish tonight. For the first time this season, both freshmen Keyshawn Woods and Torin Dorn started in place tonight for Willie Clayton and Terrance Williams against the University of Alabama Birmingham.

Despite the change, the 49ers started slow once again with a 7-0 deficit. Braxton Ogbueze made a 3-pointer for their first basket of the game, but Charlotte struggled to score following that basket. This was Ogbueze’s only basket of the game.

At the first media timeout, Charlotte trailed 13-7 with three turnovers and multiple missed shots. Like usual, it took them a while to get into the groove of the game.

By the middle of the first half, Clayton proved that he was worthy of being a starter with six points and three rebounds; but the star of the first half was Woods with 12 points on 5-5 shooting.

At halftime, Charlotte led 33-29 with most points coming from Mike Thorne Jr., Williams, Clayton and Woods. Charlotte shot 56 percent from the field and 50 percent from 3-point range.

The start of the second half mirrored the start of the first with an 8-0 run by the Blazers, commanding a quick timeout from interim head coach Ryan Odom. UAB’s Nick Norton was unstoppable and uncontested on most shot attempts.

The slump continued past the timeout with UAB pushing their lead to eight at 41-33 while on a 13-0 run to open the second half. After several minutes, Woods converted on a layup to end the draught.  After a few more baskets, Charlotte cut the deficit to 43-39 at the second media timeout.

With Henry in foul trouble and on the bench for almost six minutes, the 49ers still found a way to rally and take back the lead. Williams and Dorn then combined for three consecutive 3-pointers to take a seven-point lead.

Both the freshmen had a huge impact in this game, with Woods taking control of the first half and Torin Dorn taking control in the second half.

After each team trading baskets, the game remained tied at 65-65 for the last minute. After Norton missed a 3-pointer, Charlotte got the ball back with a little less than 30 seconds remaining and wasn’t able to convert at the buzzer. Clayton’s mid-range jumper didn’t fall and the game went to overtime for the fifth time this season.

In overtime, the 49ers just couldn’t get the job done due to their lack of strong play. By the end of the game, the 49ers trailed the Blazers in rebounds, assists, blocks and committed 15 turnovers.

Despite the strong play from Woods, Dorn and Williams, the 49ers shot 8-15 from the free throw line, with Clayton shooting 0-5. Williams finished with 17 points, seven assists and five boards off the bench while Woods finished with 19 points.

“I thought our guys really battled,” Odom said. “UAB has played well especially in conference play. We had our chances. UAB found their best player tonight and he had too many open looks. We did a nice job rebounding in the first half but the rebounding got away from us a little bit in the second half. Conference USA is a good competitive league right now. Our guys are close and we are determined to get this turned around.”

Charlotte (8-10, 2-4) has now lost two games in a row and will face Middle Tennessee on Saturday, Jan. 24 at 6 p.m.