Emerson Creech

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Athletes taking social stances, and how we can move forward

Colin Kaepernick after his game with the Panthers. Photo by Ben Coon.
Colin Kaepernick after his game with the Panthers. Photo by Ben Coon.

Last month, the entire country was set into a frenzy after San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided to take a knee during the national anthem before a preseason game. This action by Kaepernick set the United States media on fire.

By now, everyone has heard the story, and may be tired of hearing about it. Many players across the NFL have joined Kaepernick in this protest. Former teammate of Kapernick’s at the University of Nevada, and Denver Broncos linebacker, Brandon Marshall, kneeled during the national anthem of the opening night match up against the Carolina Panthers.

Other players have been seen raising their fists during the national anthem as well. A lot of people would like to accuse Kaepernick, and others, as being disrespectful to the country’s military and everyone involved in protecting our country. However, this is not about the military. This is not about disrespecting a flag, or any of the people that live in this country.

Kaepernick has said he has “immense respect” for the military. Nobody is discrediting the military and what they mean to our country and our safety. This is about standing up and speaking out against an issue that is ongoing in America.

Colin Kapernick is a professional athlete. Just like many other professional athletes, millions of people know who he is, and millions of people take note when he says something. I applaud Kaepernick, and everyone else who has participated in these protests, for using the platform they are on, to shed light on a subject has caused harm to people all across America.

Many people ask, “why put yourself out there like that?” Saying that these athletes are doing this to “get attention.” If Kaepernick wanted attention, he could just as easily put on a costume and sneak into a Vegas casino instead of going to team meetings, like Johnny Manziel. What these athletes are doing is speaking out for the many victims, and their family and friends, who have faced injustice at the hands of the police.

The issue of police brutality has taken a local spin. Tuesday afternoon, 43-year-old Keith Lamont Scott was killed by police officers. The officers claimed to be serving and outstanding warrant, and felt in danger after Scott exited his vehicle, with what has been alleged to be a gun.

At this point, everyone has an opinion on the matter. The only certainty from this incident is that Keith Scott has lost his life. A man that was in his vehicle, going about his day, was killed by police officers that were not even there for him. Details on the incident will be forthcoming, and more clearance will be provided on the matter in the days to come.

Riots outside of the campus of UNCC. Photo by Pooja Pasupula.
Riots outside of the campus of UNCC. Photo by Pooja Pasupula.

However, a fatal incident occurred in our city, and as Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton put it, we “need people to be held accountable.” Newton spoke on Tuesday’s events during a press conference on Wednesday. “I’m a firm believer in justice and I’m a firm believer of doing the right thing”, Newton said on Wednesday. “I’m not happy with how justice has been dealt with over the years.”

Following his press conference, Newton took to Instagram to continue to express how he felt about the situation. Newton posted a photo of him and Colin Kaepernick from Sunday afternoon’s game. “I salute my brother (Kaepernick) for making a stand for injustice in this country, but… the real problem is, and always will be, the people and how we treat one another.” Newton also disregarded any rumors that there was a rift in him and Kapernick’s friendship.

The protests against this issue were present on campus Wednesday. Many students at UNCC participated in a peaceful protest in the student union. Students were seen laying on the ground, singing together in uplifting songs, and having group prayer.

This is a great example of a group of people coming together in mourning of a lost civilian, and a hope for change in the future. This is not an easy time for the city of Charlotte, UNCC, or the United States of America. Everyone has an opinion on this issue. Not everyone agrees on why it happened, how it happened, or what they would do if they were in the police officer’s position on Tuesday afternoon.

No matter how you feel about the situation, we all share this city, and we all want a safe environment to live in.  I love the city of Charlotte and am proud to live here. It pains me to see this city at such a divide. The only way for us as a community, a school, and a country, to move on and grow from this incident is to come together as one unit, and promote positivity in our lives and the lives of the people around us.

Together we will mourn the loss of a proud Charlotte civilian, and step forward into the future as a community.

Building Culture Starts With Fans

Fans at the game. Photo by Chris Crews.
Fans at the game. Photo by Chris Crews.

Home opener football games are always exciting for fans. The start of a new season can rejuvenate the spirits of any fan base. The 2016 season for the Charlotte 49ers football team is a special one. The 49ers are eligible to qualify for a bowl game after getting their first year of FBS football out of the way.

Charlotte has officially made it onto the scene of big boy college football.

The 49ers routed Elon by a score of 47-14 on Saturday, giving Charlotte its first win of the 2016 season. A nice bounce back victory after having 70 hung on them by Louisville nine days prior. A total of 15,807 packed into Jerry Richardson Stadium on Saturday. All 15,000 plus should be extremely proud of the way Charlotte played on Saturday, as the 49ers showed how resilient they are by shaking off the opening weekend loss.

Losing by 56 points is certainly not the way anyone would want to start a season. However, it says a lot about the character inside the Charlotte locker room from the way they were able to put that loss behind them and move forward.

The first few weeks of every college football season features many non-conference match-ups. Teams can get a chance to schedule games against teams they wouldn’t otherwise play due to the alignment of conferences. Charlotte has taken advantage of that opportunity by scheduling teams like Louisville in the first few weeks of the season.

The only way for this young program to build up into a national name is by playing against nationally respected programs. Getting the experience of playing in a tough road environment, against well coached football teams is something that can help any smaller program like Charlotte build for the future.

Charlotte has road games scheduled against Kansas State, Tennessee, and Clemson over the next three years. All three of these games are opportunities for 49er players and coaches to get the chance to compete with Power 5 programs. These types of games build programs into contenders in their own conference, and help them become competitive with any team in the country.

Charlotte fans can look just 2 hours up the road as an example of building a program. Just over nine years ago, Appalachian State pulled off one of the biggest upsets in college football history by defeating Michigan in Ann Arbor. App State has used out of conference games to their advantage by continuously scheduling games against well-respected Power 5 programs.

Charlotte is facing a crisis that not many other teams in modern college football are dealing with: being a new program at the FBS level. New teams are established quite frequently in college football. Not very often, however, is a program playing FBS football in their third season of existence.

Playing in just their fourth season, the Charlotte football program is one of the youngest in the country. Coach Brad Lambert and the 49ers staff have made strides since taking they keys to the program in 2011. The biggest contribution that we, the students of UNC Charlotte, can add to the construction of the 49ers football culture, is by showing up to every home game and rallying behind the players and coaches.

Having an elite football program means the school has passionate fans that will ride with their team through anything. The atmosphere at Jerry Richardson Stadium on Saturday is an example of what it will take from the fans to help build this program up.

Coach Brad Lambert was certainly pleased with the atmosphere on Saturday.

“How about our fans. We had a great crowd,” Lambert said.

As fans of Charlotte, it is our responsibility to bring it every Saturday in support of the 49ers, and make Jerry Richardson Stadium the toughest place to play in Conference USA. The next test for the home crowd is this Saturday, as the 49ers take on Eastern Michigan at 6pm.

Mile high misstep- Broncos steal opening night victory from Panthers

Carolina Panthers kicker Graham Gano walks off the field after missing a possible game-winning 50-yard field goal in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016. The Broncos won, 21-20. (Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/TNS)
Carolina Panthers kicker Graham Gano walks off the field after missing a possible game-winning 50-yard field goal in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016. The Broncos won, 21-20. (Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/TNS)

Thursday night marked the end of an excruciating offseason for everyone involved with the Carolina Panthers. Super Bowl 50 left bitter taste in the mouths of the Panthers.  The anticipation of Thursday night’s game was much like the anticipation going into Super Bowl 50 this past February. Many people predicted the Panthers to win on opening night, just like many people predicted the Panthers to beat Denver in February. After a Super Bowl trophy presentation by the Broncos, the juiced up Panthers took the field and got off to a nice start. Forcing turnovers on Denver’s first two possession, the Carolina defense was making plays all over the field. Cam Newton found Kelvin Benjamin on a 14 yard missile to give Carolina a 7-0 lead in the middle of the first quarter. The Panthers appeared loose and ready to play throughout the first half. Denver responded in the second quarter with a touchdown of their own. Fullback Andy Janovich snuck through the middle of the Panthers defensive line, and scurried 28 yards to the end-zone. An 80 yard, 2 minute and 36 second drive, was a quick response by the Denver offense. With the crowd getting into the game, there appeared to be a momentum shift inside Sports Authority Field, in favor of the home team. That was until Cam Newton led the Carolina offense on an 18 play, 89 yard drive that took over nine minutes off the clock. All the energy that was in the stadium had been ripped out as Cam Newton danced in the end-zone after a 2 yard touchdown run with 3:01 left in the first half. The Panthers got the ball back with 1:45 left in the first half, after a quick 3-and-out by the Denver offense. A near flawless two minute drill by the Carolina offense led to a Graham Gano field goal to end the half. Carolina took a 17-7 lead into halftime, and certainly appeared to be the better team after one half of play.

Tale of Two Halves 

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton grimaces after throwing warmup passes on the team's sideline during third-quarter action against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016. The Broncos won, 21-20. (Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/TNS)
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton grimaces after throwing warmup passes on the team’s sideline during third-quarter action against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016. The Broncos won, 21-20. (Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/TNS)

The second half of Thursday night’s game resembled much of the Super Bowl 50 matchup in February. The Panthers came out flat in the second half, punting on their first three possessions. After a scoreless third quarter through the first 14 minutes, Denver quarterback Trevor Siemian hit Emmanuel Sanders for a nine yard score, with 21 seconds left on the third quarter clock. That touchdown capped off a an 8 play, 78 yard drive. Siemian played well throughout the night. Coming off a season where he played just one snap, the second year quarterback from Northwestern was calm, cool, and collected in his first ever NFL start.

The story of the second half was the pressure the Denver defense was able to get on Cam Newton. Credit goes to Broncos’ defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and the Denver defensive staff for the adjustments made at halftime. Cam Newton was running for his life throughout much of the second half. Newton took many brutal hits in the second half, including four helmet-to-helmet contact hits. SuperCam, however, played his best “Gladiator” role in Denver on Thursday. Newton was seen visibly in pain after taking a shot to the leg, and appeared flat out lost after taking continuous shots to the head. Many speculated that Newton may have suffered a concussion. No matter the evaluations to come on Newton, Cam played about as tough as you could ask him to.

Following the touchdown catch by Sanders, Denver picked off Newton just two plays into the next drive. Down three points entering the fourth quarter, Denver took the lead on a one yard rushing touchdown from C.J. Anderson.

Carolina would respond by going 57 yards over ten plays, but was forced to settle for a field goal, making the score 21-20 Denver. The Panthers defense stepped up, and forced the Broncos to punt on their next possession. With 3:06 on the clock, Cam Newton and the Panthers’ offense had one timeout at their disposal. After surviving a 4th and 21 incompletion, thanks to a Denver corner Chris Harris, the Panthers were inching towards field goal range. With nine seconds on the clock, Coach Rivera sent out the field goal unit to try and win the game. Before the original kick went up (which Gano made), Denver called a timeout. Now with a re-do, and the game on the line, Gano hooked it left, giving Denver the win in an opening night thriller.

Looking past the loss, there were many positive notes from Thursday’s game. Kelvin Benjamin played fantastic in his first game back from his ACL injury last August, reeling in 91 receiving yards and a touchdown. Jonathan Stewart quietly had a solid game. Stewart rushed for 64 yards, and was able to establish a rushing attack early. Greg Olsen made a few clutch catches towards the end of the game, and totaled 73 yards receiving on the night. Luke Kuechly led the team in tackles with ten, and was seen flying all over the field throughout the night.

The end of Thursday night’s game was tough to watch. However, Panthers fans, lets all take deep breath. Week two will provide a bounce back opportunity against Blaine Gabbert and the San Francisco 49ers in the home opener for the Panthers. The eight days between Thursday night’s game and week two against the 49ers will come in handy after an extremely physical opening night game. Next Sunday’s game can be seen on FOX and will kick off at 1PM.

Panthers 2016 expectations & why winning comes at a time of need for the state

Cam Newton looks on as Denver intercepts the ball during Super Bowl 50.  Photo by Ben Coon.
Cam Newton looks on as Denver intercepts the ball during Super Bowl 50. Photo by Ben Coon.

Every Panthers’ fan remembers what it felt like on the evening of February 7th, 2016. Watching Peyton Manning ride into the sunset with one last victory. A bitter end to a magnificent season for the Carolina Panthers. As if the loss itself was not enough, having the MVP of the league, Cam Newton, walk out of the post-game press conference, setting up for some piping hot takes, surely added to the discomfort of Panthers’ fans. The 2015-2016 Carolina Panthers accomplished just about everything they had aimed to. Fifteen regular season victories, ten Pro-Bowlers (both franchise records), a division title, an NFC Championship and an MVP on the team. However, one item on the list remains unchecked: A Super Bowl victory.

Last season was the ultimate roller coaster ride. Coming off of a 7-8-1 record in 2014-2015, Carolina had very low expectations from the national media. As the Panthers kept winning, the doubters slowly faded away one by one. Fast forward to the Super Bowl. Many people picked Carolina to win. Going from being picked to finish in the middle of the division, to being picked to win the Super Bowl, is a drastic change for one season. With low expectations going into last season, the Panthers were able to win with an “us against the world” type attitude. Going into the 2016-2017 season, however, things are much different.

With wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin returning after missing all of last season due to an ACL tear, Cam Newton adds another weapon to the league’s highest scoring offense. The defensive side of the ball saw Jared Allen and Peanut Tillman hang up the cleats, providing roles for young players like Kony Ealy and Robert McClain to have breakout years. Losing Josh Norman on defense hurts, but is not impossible to overcome. Luke Kuechly leads what many recognize as a top five front seven in the NFL. The gritty Panthers defensive line and linebacker core will be in the face of many quarterbacks this season.

Carolina has been picked by many to win the NFC South and be a contender for Super Bowl 51. These are expectations that the franchise has never had to face, until this season. Thinking back on great teams in franchise history, none of those teams were as hyped up as the 2016-2017 Panthers. Many of the great seasons the Panthers have had, came when not many people expected them to be very good. With expectations, comes pressure. The pressure is surely on Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers to break through and capture the franchise’s first Super Bowl title.

What the Panthers did last year was incredible. However, this year all eyes will be on the Panthers. No better example than the opening night prime-time Super Bowl rematch in Denver against the Broncos on September 8th. The Panthers will have a chance to right some of those wrongs from February 7th, 2016. A chance to remind everyone in the world that the Carolina Panthers are elite and ready to take the last step of the climb.

The Panthers have a chance to provide some positivity to the state of North Carolina, in a time where the public opinion on the state is at an all time low. After HB 2 and voter ID fiascoes in 2016, the state of North Carolina needs the Panthers to win the Super Bowl. Not because it would take the attention off of the legislative blunders, but because the people in the state deserve it. An opportunity to host the NBA All Star Game was taken away from the state. An event that would have pulled in over $100 million into the state’s economy. The people of North Carolina have seen concerts and events cancelled.

I have lived in North Carolina for 19 years, and can say that the people of this state deserve better. North Carolina has had one pro sports championship: the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes. The run that the Hurricanes had unified the entire state into a prideful frenzy. Winning a championship takes pride to another level. The joy that it creates is contagious. A Panthers Super Bowl run could change the entire vibe of the state. Having your state represented at the pinnacle of sports is something that does not happen often. Never has the state of North Carolina needed that more than right now.

Hornets battle back, claim statement win over Spurs

Charlotte Hornets guard Jeremy Lin shoots the ball over San Antonio Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge. Photo courtesy Tribune News Service
Charlotte Hornets guard Jeremy Lin shoots the ball over San Antonio Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge. Photo courtesy Tribune News Service

Entering Wednesday night’s matchup in Charlotte, the San Antonio Spurs rode an NBA-best six game winning streak. Most notably, with a victory against the Golden State Warriors this past Saturday. Meanwhile, Charlotte came into the matchup winners of 10 of their last 12 games.

Through the game’s opening quarter, San Antonio had its way on offense. Stretching out to a 28-7 lead after the first quarter, the Spurs shred the Hornets’ defense with crisp ball movement. With just seven points in the first quarter, the Hornets scored the lowest quarter total of any NBA team this season.

More of the same, for the most part, for the Spurs in the second quarter. San Antonio led 51-36 at halftime. LaMarcus Aldridge led a scoring attack from the Spurs that included four starters scoring in double figures. Aldridge finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds. Danny Green, the lone Spurs starter not to score in double figures, had a tough night shooting. Green shot 0-of-7 from the field, and finished with just two points.

However, the NBA is all about making runs. Charlotte made their run in the second half. Led by Jeremy Lin, Charlotte mounted a furious comeback. Lin, who finished with 29 points and seven rebounds, played 31 minutes off the bench. The Hornets battled back to a 72-67 lead after three quarters. With an extra buzz in the air at The Hive, the Hornets were poised to take control in the fourth quarter.

Cody Zeller put together a notable effort. Scoring six points, Zeller also racked up a career high 14 rebounds. Zeller’s effort on the glass was a huge help to keeping the Hornets in the game. Zeller collected four crucial offensive rebounds that helped extend possessions for the Hornets.

With the crowd behind them, Charlotte took their first lead of the game, at 75-74, with 9:10 remaining in the game from a Lin three pointer. From that point on, neither team led by more than four. The last nine minutes included back and forth scoring efforts from each team, that had playoff intensity in the air. Ultimately, Lin was too much for the Spurs to handle. Scoring 15 fourth quarter points, Lin continuously hit clutch shots, and put the team on his back. Lin secured a 91-88 victory for the Hornets with two free throws with 18 seconds left to play in the game. The tightly contested finish ended with Courtney Lee stealing a Spurs’ inbounds pass with 0.4 seconds left, as time expired.

Charlotte deserves a lot of credit for the way they battled back in Monday night’s game. Knowing that the team had a game in Brooklyn the following night, Steve Clifford could’ve chose to sit his starters, take the loss, and make sure his players are fresh for the Nets. However, that is not the mindset of this team. Charlotte battled back and stole one from the Spurs.

Consider this: For the first time ever, San Antonio lost a game in which they led by 20 or more points at the end of the first quarter (per Elias Sports Bureau).

Charlotte now sits in sixth place in the East, and a half game back from three teams (Miami, Atlanta and Boston) tied for third. With confidence riding high, Charlotte will look to make it two straight against Brooklyn on Tuesday, as they take on the Nets at 7:30 p.m.

Hornets pull away from pesky Sixers

Charlotte Hornets' Cody Zeller fakes Philadelphia 76ers' Nerlens Noel up into the air. Photo courtesy Tribune News Service
Charlotte Hornets’ Cody Zeller fakes Philadelphia 76ers’ Nerlens Noel up into the air. Photo courtesy Tribune News Service

Wednesday marked the second game of a back to back for the Hornets. Tuesday night, Charlotte dismantled the Phoenix Suns, 126-92, inside Time Warner Cable Arena. A matchup with the 76ers meant a battle of two teams going in opposite directions. Charlotte is in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race, while Philadelphia has been on a downward spiral the entire season. It was very important for Charlotte to come into Philadelphia focused, and ready to take care of business against the eight-win 76ers.

Since the Hornets were coming off of a back to back, it may be expected that fatigue could play a role against Philadelphia. However, with a 98-61 lead going into the fourth quarter against Phoenix, the starters took advantage of the big lead and earned some extra rest.

Charlotte kept their offensive rhythm from Tuesday night rolling against the Sixers. A fast-paced first quarter resulted in a 32-29 Hornets lead. Give the young Sixers credit, Philadelphia didn’t back down, and continued to battle throughout the game. However, the offensive consistency was too much for the Sixers to handle, as Charlotte pulled away to a 119-99 victory.

Flash back to last Sunday, when the Hornets scored just 76 points in a loss in Atlanta. The two games following that, Charlotte scored 126 and 119 points, respectively. Granted, the opponents (Philadelphia and Phoenix combine for just 23 wins on the year), may not have been the most elite the NBA has to offer. However, it was refreshing to see the offense get back in rhythm, as the Hornets enter such a crucial stretch of the season.

A balanced scoring attack led the Hornets to victory over the Sixers on Wednesday. Four starters scored in double figures, with the exception of Courtney Lee, with nine points. Marvin Williams continued his excellent play as of late, scoring 14 points to go along with nine rebounds.

Williams is also part of the reason Cody Zeller found success since entering the during the middle of the season. Williams, playing power forward, is able to stretch the floor with his ability to knock down the outside shot. Zeller can take advantage of this space with pick-and-rolls, and consistent post moves. Zeller added 15 points Wednesday night, to go along with nine rebounds and four blocks.

Matchup of the Game: 

A battle of two young and athletic rim rockers took place down low in Philadelphia. Nerlens Noel and Zeller had a physical battle all night long. Noel finished with 17 points, three rebounds and four assists, to match Zeller’s 15 points. Both players have similar games. Zeller and Noel can each do damage above the rim, with powerful dunks, as well as rebound the ball effectively.

Player of the Game: 

Wednesday night was just another episode of the “Kemba Walker Show.” After scoring just nine points last Sunday against Atlanta, Walker bounced back with 26 points (through three quarters) against Phoenix, and 30 points against Philadelphia. Matched up against to young guards in Isaiah Canaan and Ish Smith, Walker found his way on the offensive end. To go along with his 30 point outburst, Walker also tacked on seven rebounds and two assists.

With the Hornets winning eight of their last ten games, Charlotte currently sits in sixth place in the Eastern Conference standings. Charlotte will play their next seven games at home, starting with Indiana on Friday night. Friday night’s game against Indiana is crucial for both teams, as the Pacers sit in seventh place, and just a half game back from the Hornets.

Turnovers kill the buzz, Cavs beat Hornets

Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker releases a jump shot. Photo courtesy Tribune News Service
Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker releases a jump shot. Photo courtesy Tribune News Service

Following a victory against Brooklyn on Sunday, Charlotte came into Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, riding a Eastern Conference best 5 game winning streak. Charlotte and Cleveland entered Wednesday night’s matchup with the season series tied at one. Each of the two previous contests were in Charlotte.

One reason the Hornets were able to pull away from Brooklyn late in the gammon Sunday, was because of their balanced offensive attack, with four starters scoring in double figures. Wednesday night would script a much different story. The only starter to score in double figures was Kemba Walker, with 20 points. With the starters not carrying the load on the offensive end, someone from the bench needed to step up. Frank Kaminsky came off the bench in the first quarter, and scored eight early points, helping Charlotte to a one point lead following the first quarter.

As the game progressed, the turnovers started coming at a quicker pace. Charlotte averages the second fewest turnovers per game in the NBA. Wednesday, the Hornets committed 14 turnovers, many of which lead to easy fast break baskets. Cleveland’s wing players were able to jump passing lanes quite often. Once Lebron James and the Cavs’ get in transition, they are very difficult to stop. Cleveland was able to take advantage of Charlotte’s mistakes, and shoot 49 percent from the field, on the way to a 114-103 victory.

Defensive issues were also a tale of how Charlotte lost this game. After leading by a point following the first quarter, without much scoring coming from the starters, there was optimism inside Charlotte’s huddle. However, the second quarter was a disaster defensively. Giving up 40 second quarter points, Charlotte found themselves in a 63-52 deficit. Team defense seemed to be an issue, which could be expected with so many guys shuffling in and out of the lineup recently. Cleveland is also one of the most efficient offensive teams in the league, at ninth points per game.

Matchup of the Game: 

Nic Batum and James are two wingmen that can do a little bit of everything. Shooting 4-of-9 from the field, Batum was held to just nine points, but collected five rebounds, and dished out six assists. James had it going from the start. The four-time MVP shot 8-of-13, scoring 23 points, to go along with seven rebounds and seven assists. James was also able to grab a pair of steals, which lead to easy fast break points. James’ defense certainly seemed to rattle Batum at times. The Frenchman shot just 1-of-4 from behind the arc. Although his scoring production was not up to expectations, Batum was able to get teammates involved, with his six assists.

Player of the Game: 

Walker might not want the month of February to end. Besides the Feb. 3 contest against Cleveland, where Walker sat out, Walker has scored at least 20 points in every game this month. Having one of the best months of his career, Walker shot 7-of-13, including three triples, to notch 20 points on the night. Also recording six assists, Walker was able to help the offense in more ways than one.

Charlotte will have a very important matchup on Friday. As we stand now, the Hornets are eighth in the Easter Conference. Friday, Charlotte will travel to Indiana, to take on the Pacers at 7 p.m. The fifth place Pacers are just a game and a half ahead of Charlotte, creating an opportunity for the Hornets to gain ground in the standings with a victory.

Hornets pull away from Nets, win fifth straight

Charlotte Hornets' Jeremy Lamb carries the ball to the basket. Photo courtesy Tribune News Service
Charlotte Hornets’ Jeremy Lamb carries the ball to the basket. Photo courtesy Tribune News Service

Charlotte played in their second game of their current five game post all-star Break road trip on Sunday evening. It was time to make the first stop in Brooklyn of the year, to take on the Nets. Charlotte defeated Brooklyn 116-111 in their first matchup, in Charlotte. The Hornets entered Sunday’s matchup winners of four straight, and facing an opponent in Brooklyn that had only won 15 games on the year.

Sunday marked the first game Courtney Lee, acquired from Memphis in a trade last week, would play in as a member of the Hornets. Lee missed last Friday’s game against Milwaukee after not being able to practice last Thursday due to a physical. Head coach Steve Clifford wanted to ensure that he was putting Lee in a position to succeed, and have a few days to learn the offense. Lee entered the starting lineup and executed the gameplay to coach Clifford’s liking. Shooting 50 percent from the field (granted, just 2-of-4), Lee finished with five points. Lee is a player that was acquired to come into the starting rotation, play above average defense, and provide outside shooting ability. With those attributes, Lee could make a very positive impact on this Hornets team.

Brooklyn’s struggles this year have been heavily exploited on the defensive end. Charlotte was able take advantage of Brooklyn’s defensive struggles with a 28 point outing from Kemba Walker, to go along with 16 points from Nic Batum, and 18 points from Al Jefferson. Big Al played in his second game back from knee surgery. Like he did against Milwaukee, Jefferson came off the bench, and had his way scoring against a Brooklyn team that was searching for answers defensively.

After what was a pretty back and forth offensive quarter from both teams, Charlotte led by three following the opening period. Despite their record, Brooklyn showed signs of productive offensive ability. Four starters scored in double figures for the Nets, including a team high 17 points from center Brook Lopez. The balanced offensive attack was able to keep the Nets in the game for the first half, as Charlotte held on to a seven point lead after the first 24 minutes of play. The second half is where the Hornets were able to find separation. Opening up a 17 point second half lead, Charlotte was able to pull away from the pesky Nets, and win their fifth straight game by a score of 104-96.

Player of the Game: 

Walker has continued his fantastic month of February, averaging over 25 points this month. Walker was able to find his way offensively as he was guarded by fairly inexperienced defenders from the Brooklyn backcourt. Shooting 11-of-28, Walker notched 28 points. Walker continues to prove why he should have been in Toronto for the all-star game.

Matchup of the Game: 

Sunday’s contest provided a matchup of two lengthy wing men who can score the basketball. Charlotte’s Batum and Brooklyn’s Joe Johnson each can get the ball through the basket efficiently. Shooting 5-10 from the field, Batum was came close to notching his second triple double of the year, finishing with 16 points, eight assists, and seven rebounds. Johnson shot and efficient 4-of-6, scoring 17 points.

Two days of rest will come in handy for the Hornets, as they head to Cleveland to face LeBron James and the Cavaliers on Wednesday at 7 p.m.

 

 

Hornets outlast young Bucks

Friday, Feb. 19  marked the first game for the Charlotte Hornets following the all-star break. Traveling the farthest west they will have to go for the rest of the season, Charlotte found themselves in a battle with the Milwaukee Bucks. The lineup looked different than the last time Charlotte stepped onto the floor. During the last game before the all-star break against Indiana, small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist re-injured the same right shoulder he had operated on during the preseason. Kidd-Gilchrist had season ending shoulder surgery last week in Philadelphia.

With Kidd-Gilchrist down for the year, it was up to the front office to decided if they wanted to find a replacement, or trust the players in place to step up. General manager Rich Cho answered that question when he traded P.J. Hairston, Brian Roberts and two second round picks in a three team trade that found Memphis Grizzlies shooting guard Courtney Lee headed to Charlotte.

Charlotte entered Friday night’s matchup one game above .500, and 7th in the Eastern Conference. Just four games back from Boston at third place, the Hornets recognized that every game down the back end of the schedule is vital. The game was competitive for all 48 minutes. Scoring 14 points in the first quarter, Kemba Walker finished with 25, leading Charlotte to a 98-95 victory.

Friday also marked the first game that Al Jefferson had seen action in since undergoing knee surgery in late December. Jefferson came off the bench in his first game back, scoring six points on 3-7 shooting. While the Hornets gained, and lost, players over the last week and a half, the starting lineup would look different than usual against Milwaukee. Head coach Steve Clifford went with his tallest lineup of the season thus far, against one of the longest teams in the league, in Milwaukee. Walker and Nic Batum headlined the backcourt, with Marvin Williams at small forward. Rookie power forward Frank Kaminsky got his first start of his career in the state he played his college basketball. With Jefferson not ready to jump back in the starting lineup just yet, Cody Zeller got the nod to start at center.

Player of the Game:

Zeller played one of the best games of his young NBA career on Friday night. Shooting 9-12 from the field, Zeller notched 23 points and nine rebounds. Zeller started off the game matched up with the long and athletic Giannis Antetokounmpo. “The Greek Freak” was a tough matchup for Zeller at times, as he finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Zeller also saw a matchup with the physical Greg Monroe down low. Weller did a much better job on Monroe, as he finished with just four points off the bench.

Matchup of the Game: 

A classic matchup of youth versus wisdom, Jabari Parker was matched up against Marvin Williams. Parker played 42 minutes, scoring 23 points to go along with 11 rebounds. Williams had his way with Parker at times, scoring 15 points. The veteran, Williams, knocked down a couple timely baskets during the final minutes of the game to seal the victory for the Hornets.

Charlotte will get a day off Saturday, before facing Brooklyn inside the Barclays Center on Sunday, Feb. 21 at 6 p.m.

 

The future is bright In Carolina

Ted Ginn Jr. in Super Bowl 50. Photo by Ben Coon
Ted Ginn Jr. in Super Bowl 50. Photo by Ben Coon

Super Bowl 50 didn’t play out the way any Panthers fan thought it would. After dismantling the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship, it appeared that the Panthers were on the fast track to their first Super Bowl title in franchise history.

That achievement will have to wait at least another year. While Sunday’s game was difficult to watch for any Panthers fan, it is important that we recognize how special of a season Carolina had. 15 regular season wins, a third straight division title, an NFC Championship title, and an MVP in Cam Newton. Those are pretty respectable accolades for a team, that many people said, would not win more than seven games.

Oh, how things can change in a year. The offseason expectations are drastically different now, than they were a year ago. 365 days ago, Panther fans were still thinking about that Seattle loss in the divisional round and how the offensive line and receiving core needed to improve before the team made any real damage in the league.

This upcoming season, however, Carolina will enter as one of the favorites to win Super Bowl. These expectations will be a new situation for Panthers players and coached to handle. Previously, Carolina was used to coming into a season with not many people expecting much out of them. Now, all eyes are on MVP Newton and the reigning NFC Champion Carolina Panthers.

Before we start talking about another Super Bowl appearance, there is a checklist of items that the Panthers needs to take care of as an organization to take the final step in the path to a championship. The 2016 offseason for Carolina will be highlighted by what free agent cornerback Josh Norman decides to do.

It is expected that the Panthers will use their franchise tag on Norman, in hopes to reconstruct his contract going into the future. Taking care of Norman should be the first thing on general manager Dave Gettleman’s mind.

Even with Norman, many people describe Carolina’s secondary as the weakest link of the team. Safety Roman Harper and corner back Charles Tillman will also be free agents in the 2016 offseason. If Tillman were unable to return, Robert McClain would likely step in as the starting corner. Depending on the status of Harper, Carolina could look to draft a corner or safety in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft.

The Panthers will take a $15 million cap hit from Charles Johnson during the upcoming season. Johnson, who is a free agent in 2017, could be moved by Carolina in order to free up cap space. The nine year pro missed seven games this season due to a hamstring injury.

With Kony Ealy sitting behind Johnson on the depth chart, that decision might not be difficult for the Carolina to make. It will be important for the Panthers to think ahead when evaluating contracts this offseason. The 2017 offseason will be a pretty hectic one. Among others, 2017 free agents include Ted Ginn Jr., Ryan Kalil, Star Lotulelei, and Kawann Short. A reconstruction of Lotulelei and/or Short’s contracts could be taking place this offseason. The Panthers pride themselves on their defensive tenacity, and pass rushers like Lotulelei and Short don’t come around very often. The defensive line presence that was so dominant at times this season, took the pressure off of what was, by the end of the season, a beaten up secondary.

The offensive line was one of the most improved units on the Panthers’ team from the 2014-2015 season, to the 2015-2016 season. The acquisition of left tackle Michael Oher helped patch up what used to be an extremly vulnerable blind side for Cam Newton. Led by center Kalil, the offensive line played particularly well for Carolina.

That notion is displayed through the Panthers as a team leading the league in rushing this past season. However, the play of the offensive line during Super Bowl 50 is something that should raise the eyebrows of head coach Ron Rivera. Super Bowl MVP Von Miller had his way with the Panthers offensive line, as Newton was sacked seven times by the Denver defense.

Although it was just one game, and Denver’s defense is now being regarded as one of the best all time, the poor play on the biggest stage certainly can be a cause for concern. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Panthers decided to address offensive line depth during early/middle rounds of the draft.

The 2016 offseason will be an important one for Carolina to manage, if they have any plans of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy next season. While the end of the season may not have played out like Panthers fans wanted, the future of Carolina Panthers football may be as bright as it’s ever been.

 

Hornets blow past Bulls

After a comeback victory against Washington on Saturday, Feb. 6. the Hornets played their last home game before the all-star break on Monday, Jan. 8. against Chicago. Charlotte entered the matchup with a 2-1 advantage on the season against Chicago.

The Bulls received discomforting news shortly before game time. Starting point guard Derrick Rose was ruled out against Charlotte due to soreness. Chicago was also missing all-star small forward Jimmy Butler to a knee injury. With a depleted squad in Time Warner Cable Arena, the Hornets had a chance to get a much needed victory, before heading on the road for the next six games.

Charlotte started fast, taking the lead to open the game, and never looked back. The game opened with a 17-6 Hornets’ spurt. Finishing with 20 points on the night, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist started fast, scoring ten points in the first nine minutes. The Hornets were lead to victory from a 30-point effort from Kemba Walker. Walker recorded his eighth game of the year with at least 30 points. The all-star snub also recorded eight assists and seven rebounds.

Stat lines similar to this are starting to become a recurring theme for Walker. He’s now recorded at least five rebounds and at least five assists in six of his last ten games. Nic Batum is starting to get his game back together, after battling through multiple injuries during the month on January. Saturday against Washington, Batum finished one assist away from his second triple-double of the season. Monday night, Batum was two assists away from a triple-double, finishing with 19 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists.

Matchup of the Game: 

With both Rose and Butler out of Monday’s game, Chicago would look to rely heavily on the offensive production of Pau Gasol. This meant that Cody Zeller had to prepare his best defensive effort. For the most part, Gasol had his way on the offensive end, scoring 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting. The big man also collected 10 rebounds and dished out seven assists. On the other side, Zeller had a tough offensive night. Although efficient, Zeller didn’t attempt many shots, shooting 2-of-3 from the field, including one three pointer. Zeller finished with five points to go along with eight rebounds.

Player of the Game:

Kemba Waker had another elite performance on Monday night. With 30 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, Walker is proving every game why he should have been an all-star. With this magnificent performance, Walker passed Glen Rice for fourth all-time on the Hornets scoring list (5,651 points).

Charlotte is about to enter a very crucial stretch of the season. As we sit here today, the Hornets are a half game back from Detroit for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, at 26-26 on the season. Charlotte will play their next six games on the road against Eastern Conference teams. There is one last game before the all-star break on Wednesday, Feb. 10. on the road at Indiana. The Hornets will play the Pacers for the first time this season on Wednesday. Charlotte plays Indiana three times over the next two and a half weeks, and sits just two and a half games behind the sixth place Pacers. Just to put in perspective how tight the Eastern Conference race is: Charlotte is four games behind Boston, who is in third place. The Hornets are hot right now, winning seven of their last ten games. With a vital stretch of the schedule on the horizon, Charlotte could be poised to make serious noise in the Eastern Conference standings.

Hornets record statement win over Cleveland

LeBron James bringing the ball up the court in Charlotte. Photo by Benjamin Robson.
LeBron James bringing the ball up the court in Charlotte. Photo by Benjamin Robson.

LeBron James came into Time Warner Cable Arena Wednesday night with a personal 21-game win streak against Charlotte, dating back to his days in Miami. That streak now sits in the past. Charlotte put together a magnificent team effort to down the Eastern Conference leading Cleveland Cavaliers, 106-97. The Hornets were coming off of two days rest, after going 2-2 on a Western Conference road trip, and beating the Lakers on Sunday.

There was good news and bad news for Hornets fans coming into Wednesday night’s matchup. The good news, Nic Batum, Jeremy Lamb, and Cody Zeller would all be returning to the lineup. The bad news, Charlotte would be playing without Kemba Walker, who sat out Wednesday due to a sore knee.

With Walker out, Jeremy Lin stepped in to play starting point guard. Batum returned to his starting shooting guard role, while Zeller checked in as the starting center. Cleveland jumped out to an early first quarter lead, leading by as many as six. After one, the score was tied at 23. The second quarter saw an increase in scoring, as Cleveland stretched a 58-49 lead going into halftime. An inspired Hornets squad rallied in the third quarter to take a 70-69 lead with 5:35 left in the third quarter, and they never looked back.

Charlotte had one of their best shooting nights of the season, shooting 49 percent from the field. However, this game was won on the glass. Charlotte out-rebounded Cleveland 49-28. The Hornets also did an exceptional job sharing the basketball, recording 26 assists on 39 made field goals. Rookie Frank Kaminsky kept the Hornets in the game during the first half, shooting 7-of-8 from the field to go along with 15 points.  Marvin Williams had a quick start to his scoring effort, scoring ten points over the first 10 minutes, finishing with 16.

Matchup of the Game: 

Playing in his third game of the season, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist matched up with The King himself, LeBron James. There was no rust on Kidd-Gilchrist’s defensive craft, holding James to 10-of-21 shooting from the field, including 0-0f-3 from behind the arc. Kidd-Gilchrist shot just 5-of-14 from the field, scoring 11 points. However, Kidd-Gilchrist did his damage on the glass. The 6-foot-7 small forward racked up 13 rebounds, including two offensive boards.

MKG is picking up right where he left off at the end of last season. Photo by Benjamin Robson.
MKG is picking up right where he left off at the end of last season. Photo by Benjamin Robson.

Player of the Game: 

Filling in for Walker at starting point guard, Lin received his chance to run the offense. He did just that, and more. Finishing with 24 point on 7-of-13 shooting, Lin also dished out eight assists, and collected five rebounds. Lin was all over the floor. With his leadership, the team did not miss a beat without Walker, their leading scorer, in the lineup.

Jermey Lin got the start with 24 points. Photo by Benjamin Robson.
Jermey Lin got the start with 24 points. Photo by Benjamin Robson.

Wednesday night’s comeback victory displayed the fight that is within this Hornets team. There were chippy moments in the game. During the fourth quarter, J.R. Smith pushed Spender Hawes, after Hawes was called for a charging foul, knocking LeBron James to the floor. Hawes and Smith faced up to each other like two boxers ready to go at it, before the pair were separated, and order was restored. The Hornets showed a lot of resilience to come off of a four game road trip, and knock off the defending Eastern Conference champs.

Charlotte will get Thursday off, before facing the Miami Heat on Friday, Feb. 5 inside Time Warner Cable Arena. The matchup against the Heat will be the first of a back to back, as Charlotte plays Washington at the Hive on Saturday.

J.R. Smith was charged a technical for his aggression towards Spencer Hawes. Photo by Benjamin Robson.
J.R. Smith was charged a technical for his aggression towards Spencer Hawes. Photo by Benjamin Robson.

Familiar face lifts Hornets over Lakers

Charlotte Hornets head coach Steve Clifford reacts to a call against the team. Photo courtesy Tribune News Service
Charlotte Hornets head coach Steve Clifford reacts to a call against the team. Photo courtesy Tribune News Service

Sunday evening, Charlotte entered Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles to play the final game of a four game road trip. This matchup would be the last game of January for the Hornets.

The first month of 2016 included seventeen games, 12 of which were on the road, including two separate Western Conference road trips. The Hornets have completed arguably the toughest stretch of their schedule, as they head into February.

The Hornets received great news last Friday, as small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist made his season debut in a 109-91 loss to Portland. With Kidd-Gilchrist back in the lineup for his second game of the season on Sunday, Charlotte was still playing without Cody Zeller (shoulder), Jeremy Lamb (toe), Nic Batum (toe), and Al Jefferson (knee). With all of these injuries looming, Jeremy Lin and Spencer Hawes each checked into the starting lineup. It was uncertain to whether or not coach Steve Clifford would limit Kidd-Gilchrist’s minutes as he made his way back onto the court.

The answer to that question, in short, no. Kidd-Gilchrist started both Friday and Sunday, while playing 33 minutes against the Blazers and 27 minutes against the Lakers.

Charlotte jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead Sunday against the Lakers, and never looked back. While trailing just once (10-9), the Hornets knocked down 11 first half three-pointers, on the way to a 101-82 victory. An uninspired Lakers unit, playing behind a sold out Staples Center, could not avenge the three-point shooting of Charlotte. While the Hornets did not shoot the ball particularly great (37 percent), the most influential box score stat was the offensive rebounds. Charlotte racked up 14 offensive rebounds, to the Lakers four. The Hornets also did a fantastic job sharing the ball, recording 28 assists as a team on Sunday.

Matchup of the Game: 

Kidd-Gilchrist was playing just his second game of the season on Sunday. How does guarding Kobe Bryant sound?

While the Black Mamba has had a down year, for his standards, he is still capable of lighting up the stat sheet on any given night. Kidd-Gilchrist would need to present his best effort on defense. Kobe struggled shooting in the first half, as Kidd-Gilchrist had a tight grip on the veteran. After shooting 5-of-11 in the first half, Bryant finished with 23 points on 8-of-18 shooting. Kidd-Gilchrist had an extra pop in his step the entire night. As soon as he collected a defensive rebound, his eyes immediately look to the other side of the floor, and he begins to push a fast break effort. Kidd-Gilchrist loves getting to the rim and drawing contact. While not known for his outside shooting in the past, the third year pro knocked down two first half three-pointers. Shooting 6-of-7 from the field, Kidd-Gilchrist finished with 19 points, 12 rebounds and three assists.

Player of the Game: 

While Kidd-Gilchrist put up a healthy stat line, Marvin Williams put up almost identical numbers. The veteran power forward scored 19 points on 7-of-13 shooting, to go along with 12 rebounds and two assists. These two valiant efforts lead the charge for Charlotte. Each of these two are great leaders on the court. Williams is a great vocal leader, while Kidd-Gilchrist leads by example with his outstanding effort on both ends of the floor. The hustle from both Williams and Kidd-Gilchrist was displayed Sunday, as both collected four offensive rebounds, respectively.

After finishing a brutal January schedule, Charlotte will be rewarded with Monday and Tuesday off, before facing LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday, inside Time Warner Cable Arena. Wednesday will mark the second meeting of the season between these two, after Cleveland won the first in Charlotte. The Hornets face a very important upcoming five game stretch. Charlotte will play Cleveland, Miami, Washington and Chicago at home, before traveling to Indiana. Four of these five (excluding Washington) are in the top eight of the Eastern Conference standings. Charlotte currently sits ninth in the East, two games behind Detroit for the eighth spot.

Fatigued Hornets fall big in Utah

Charlotte Hornets guard Jeremy Lin, right, flies across the lane looking to pass to a teammate. Photo courtesy Tribune News Service
Charlotte Hornets guard Jeremy Lin, right, flies across the lane looking to pass to a teammate. Photo courtesy Tribune News Service

Wednesday night marked the second time in 10 days that Charlotte would square off with the Utah Jazz. Last Monday, when these two teams last met, Charlotte edged out a 124-119 victory in double overtime. Monday night, Charlotte went into Sacramento and came away with a 129-128 victory in double overtime against the Kings. With extra minutes being played Monday, fatigue would play a role in Wednesday’s matchup.

Charlotte might want to stay away from Vivint Smart Home Arena for a while. Last year in Salt Lake City, the Hornets suffered a 94-66 defeat at the hands of the Jazz. Wednesday was eerily similar, as Charlotte fell 102-73, behind 24 points from Rodney Hood and 22 from Gordon Hayward. An added bonus to Wednesday night’s lineup was the addition of Nic Batum back into the starting lineup, after missing three games with a toe injury. Much like last season’s matchup, the Hornets got off to a slow start shooting. Shooting just 22 percent over the first six minutes to begin the game, Charlotte shot just 36 percent from the field. After knocking down 20 three pointers Monday against Sacramento, the Hornets saw only six of twenty five three point attempts go down against Utah.

Coming off of a career high 28 points against Sacramento, Troy Daniels scored only five points in 22 minutes of action. Kemba Walker was clearly rattled by the defensive intensity Utah presented. Scoring 15 points, Walker put up only 11 shot attempts, after shooting at least 25 attempts each of the last three games. Batum struggled in his return, scoring six points on 2-of-9 shooting. In notable injury news, Jeremy Lin left the game with an ankle injury and did not return, finishing with four points.

Matchup of the Game: 

With the absence of Cody Zeller due to a shoulder injury, Spencer Hawes started his fourth straight game at center. This presented a very intriguing matchup, as 7-foot-1 Rudy Gobert played opposite of Hawes. Gobert and Hawes present contrasting styles of play at the center position. Hawes likes to stretch the floor to the perimeter, and use the outside shot to his advantage. Also an exceptional passer for a big man, Hawes does a great job creating for teammates. While Gobert prefers to keep his game in the paint, using his strength to back down defenders and take high percentage shots. Gobert also uses his length to his advantage, playing as a shot blocking force down low.

Player of the Game: 

Marvin Williams has stepped in as a veteran leader for Charlotte since signing with the team two summers ago. Shooting just 3-of-10 from the field, Williams scored nine points. However, Williams played a valuable 23 minutes, as he racked up five rebounds and an assist. Wednesday, however, his production went beyond the stat sheet. Williams is an excellent vocal leader on the defensive end. Matched up against Trey Lyles at power forward, Williams held the rookie to zero points on zero for four shooting. Williams also played well defensively against Derrick Favors and Trevor Booker down low.

Wednesday night’s loss snapped a three game win streak put together by the Hornets. Currently at 22-24 on the season, remain just a game and a half back from Indiana for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. Charlotte will look to shake off a rough shooting night against Utah, as they head to Portland, Ore. on Friday, Jan. 29 to take on the Trail Blazers at 10 p.m.