Thursday, December 30, 2010

3 things to like, 3 to dislike about Mercer win

MACON, Ga. -- Three things I liked about the 49ers' 64-63 victory against Mercer on Thursday, Charlotte's third straight:

-- This is the kind of game Charlotte would have lost a month ago. The 49ers have discovered what it takes to win close games at the end (Wright State, Tennessee included). With Atlantic 10 play looming, that's a trait that will serve the 49ers well as the season progresses.

-- The 49ers found their shooting stroke, hitting a season-high 54.3 percent of their shots. Javarris Barnett was seven-of-nine, An'Juan Wilderness and Chris Braswell each three-of-four and Phil Jones four-of-seven. Only the guards, Derrio Green and Deuce Briscoe, struggled some, going a combined eight of 20. You get the sense though, that Green is rediscovering his touch.

-- The 49ers won with Briscoe having an off game. He was three of nine, missed all three of his 3-pointers, had more turnovers than assists (6 to 5) and missed much of the latter stages due to foul trouble.

Three things I didn't like:

-- Not only were those 22 turnovers a season high, but several were unforced. Green dribbled the ball off his foot -- under no pressure -- with Charlotte clinging to a 61-60 lead with 2:10 left.

-- Only six offensive rebounds. Enough said ...

-- ... But I'll say more. The game was made closer than it should have been when Mercer's Brian Mills slipped around Charlotte defenders and scored after a missed free throw with 18 seconds left. That cut the lead to 64-63. Never should have been that close had the 49ers been fundamentally sound there.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

49ers set for 'Georgia Invitational'

49ers coach Alan Major has dubbed these next two games as the "Georgia Invitational." Charlotte plays Thursday at Mercer in Macon, Ga., and then Sunday at Georgia Tech.

Major came up with the name while flying home to Indianapolis for a few days at Christmas. "I guess that's what you do when you've got a little time on your hands," said Major.

Actually, Major wants his team to be in the mindset that it's in a mini-tournament (double elimination, apparently), with travel and hostile crowds involved, too.

Mercer is just 3-8, but had Georgia on the ropes recently, blowing an 11-point second half lead and losing 56-53.

This might not be a tournament, but it is a round robin. Mercer plays at Georgia Tech on Friday.

Remember, the Mercer-Charlotte game is at 2 p.m. I'll be on Twitter with updates throughout at @davidscott14.


-- 49ers freshman guard Luka Voncina won’t be with the team Thursday or for Sunday’s game at Georgia Tech. He’s spending the holiday break at home in Slovenia, where – folks in the 49ers athletics department hope – he will bring back some answers about why his high school transcript isn’t being accepted by the NCAA. Until that happens, Voncina will continue to be ineligible.

-- The 49ers are making 73.4 percent of their free throws, tops in the Atlantic 10. They’re also third in the league in 3-point defense (28.5 percent), fourth in 3s made per game (7.2) and fifth in defensive rebounding (26.1).

-- Charlotte has held five its last six opponents to 65 or fewer points.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

49ers finding an identity

However this basketball season turns out, it's now becoming easier and easier to see how coach Alan Major is putting his stamp on the 49ers' basketball program.

It took 10 games to do it, but the 49ers have found their identity: They're a tough, make-no-excuses bunch that, at least for the time being, is doing whatever it takes to win.

As guard Derrio Green, whose 3-pointer gave the 49ers their winning points in a 57-53 victory against Wright State on Wednesday, put it: “...We fight every night. We do it in practice. We beat each other up. Before, we would lay down. But now we’ve drawn the line.”

This two-game winning streak is just that, a modest bit of success in the middle of a long season. But how the 49ers have won recently, especially given the tumultuous beginning of the season (the Shamari Spears drama, injuries, Luka Voncina's continuing eligibility problems), has given them something to hang on to.

Charlotte locked down Wright State in the second half with a tough zone defense, one that Raiders coach Billy Donlon said had as much to do with the 49ers' physical style as anything. They played through another night of long minutes by the starters.

Ten days ago, that kind of second-half performance wasn't there in a loss at Davidson. Maybe the 49ers had accepted their perceived shortcomings at that time. Or maybe they were still getting accustomed to how Major wants to play and what it will take for them to compete.

Wright State's Donlon, though, might have said it best when he talked about the 49ers' comeback against his Raiders: "That's the sign of something being built."

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Sherrill gives frontcourt a different look

-- With K.J. Sherrill back, coach Alan Major described what kind of front court the 49ers have now.
With starting forward Shamari Spears kicked off the team, Charlotte’s front line was composed mainly of 6-8 forward Chris Braswell and 6-11 backup center Phil Jones. Undersized Javarris Barnett (6-7) and An’Juan Wilderness (6-6) were being asked to guard bigger players.

“He gives us another body in the post,” said Major. “Phil is your big, mass body. ‘Braz’ is our jack-of-all-trades, passing it, handling it and scoring around the rim. K.J. brings energy. He’s bouncing around there, flying around. He makes you feel good because he’s so active.”

-- The 49ers will briefly break for Christmas after Wednesday's game against Wright State. They return to campus Sunday to prepare for a five-day road trip in Georgia next week: at Mercer on Dec. 30 and at Georgia Tech on Jan. 2. The Yellow Jackets game is at 6 p.m., the same afternoon the Carolina Panthers play the Atlanta Falcons a few miles across town at the Georgia Dome at 1 p.m.

-- Halton Arena is the site of a day-night doubleheader Wednesday: Charlotte’s women play Maryland-Eastern Shore at noon (admission is free) and the men’s game against Wright State is free to kids 17 and under.

-- Major said the reason Braswell didn’t start against Tennessee was for a minor rules violation. He’ll be back in the starting lineup tonight ahead of Jones.

-- One final note from Major on the Tennessee victory: “Probably the most rewarding thing was for the guys to see that they’re capable of more than they think. I’m not saying we thought we were going to lose, but if you do things -- scouting, practicing hard, watching film, doing the day-to-day work, then you can earn your way into playing well.”

-- Quick baseball note: The signature trees that line the outfield outside Phillips Field are being replaced this week. The old ones -- which gave the stadium an intimate atmosphere -- were diseased. The new ones are much smaller, but they'll grow back -- sometime.

Monday, December 20, 2010

49ers' Tyler A-10 women's rookie of week

Charlotte's Gabby Tyler is the Atlantic 10 women's basketball rookie of the week.

Tyler, a freshman forward from Emporia, Va., scored 13 points and had seven rebounds in a 62-44 victory at Arkansas State on Sunday. Tyler was six-for-six from the field.

She's averaging 7.0 points per game and 4.1 rebounds and has 14 blocked shots this season, second on the team.

The 49ers (9-2) play Maryland-Eastern Shore on Wednesday at noon at Halton Arena.

-- Charlotte's baseball team is one of several "others receiving votes" in Collegiate Baseball magainze's preseason rankings.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Tennessee triumph a chance for momentum

Next up: Wright State. At Halton Arena. Next Wednesday with Charlotte's students on Christmas break.

Sorry for the buzzkill, but that's what's facing the 49ers after their scintillating and, frankly, inspiring 49-48 victory Friday against No. 7 Tennessee at Time Warner Cable Arena.

The atmosphere next Wednesday won't be anything like it was Friday. There won't be 8,419 fans at Halton (I'd love to be proven wrong, Niner Nation!) and the juices won't be flowing like they were against Tennessee.

But that's also what makes it a huge test for the 49ers, who now have the chance for some much-needed momentum as their Atlantic 10 season approaches three games hence. All three of those games -- Wright State, at Mercer on Dec. 30 and at Georgia Tech on Jan. 2 -- now appear to be quite winnable (even Georgia Tech of the unimposing ACC).

Beating Tennessee doesn't mean Charlotte is suddenly an A-10 contender, there are still too many holes to fill in what remains a depth-shy lineup. But Charlotte is going to need to win games like the one it's facing Wednesday against Wright State, which is 6-5 heading into a game Saturday against Miami (Ohio).

But the way Charlotte stood up to Tennessee in the second half -- when they've faltered several times this season already -- might mean the start of something good (as does the return of K.J. Sherrill). And of course, there's the question that can't be answered but is worth pondering nonetheless: Would Charlotte have won with Shamari Spears in the lineup?

"It's so hard to get the general public to understand what these guys go through," said coach Alan Major. "Sometimes it's hard to deal with expectations. Sometimes it's hard to remember that these are kids. But to understand what it takes to play at a high level and sustain it, that's what I'm most proud of. They played a full 40 minutes together."

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Spears can keep scholarship

A few 49ers notes and thoughts:

-- Shamari Spears, who was thrown off the basketball team Tuesday, can keep his scholarship at Charlotte through the end of the 2010-11 school year. Whether he remains in school isn't known, but he's not going to eligible to play elsewhere. Athletes have five years to play four seasons, and this was Spears' fifth year (he played two seasons at Boston College and sat out one season at Charlotte per NCAA rules). Spears technically competed for his fourth and final season when he stepped on the court against S.C. State in November. He wouldn't qualify for any "hardship" redshirt status going forward.

-- I'm told that guard Luka Voncina -- who hasn't played this season because of eligibility issues -- is going home to Slovenia over the holidays and will try to get his credits issues with Charlotte straightened out with his high school there. He's got to do that before the NCAA will look at his case, so don't expect any kind of resolution soon.

-- K.J. Sherrill (knee) continues to practice with the team, but a decision whether he'll play Friday against Tennessee hasn't been made. He's got to practice in "contact" drills before coach Alan Major will allow him to play.

-- Elijah Carter, a point guard from Brewster (N.H.) Academy who's being recruited by the 49ers, has predictably expanded his list of potential colleges since not signing early in November. His coach, Jason Smith, says Carter is now also considering -- among others -- Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, Oregon State, Butler and South Florida.

-- Spears' sister, Olivia Rankin of Salisbury High, is one of the 49ers' women's basketball team's recruits for next season. A spokesperson for the women's basketball team says Rankin's brother's suspension isn't expected to affect her decision to attend Charlotte.

-- Quick baseball note: Charlotte senior reliever Bryan Hamilton has been named a third-team preseason All-American by the Pro-Line Athletic National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association. Hamilton was 4-0 with two saves and a 2.01 ERA last season.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Spears dismissed from team

Shamari Spears has been dismissed from the 49ers' basketball team.

Spears, a senior forward who was suspended indefinitely before Charlotte's game against Radford, was a third-team all-Atlantic 10 player last season. He was averaging 17.0 points and 3.2 rebounds through five games this season.

"After much consideration, it is the decision of our coaching staff that Shamari Spears and our team part ways at this time," said coach Alan Major in a statement. "We want to wish him the best in his future endeavors and we will continue to move forward as a team. In those efforts to move forward, no further comments will be made regarding this matter."

Spears, a Salisbury native who transferred to Charlotte from Boston College in 2009, apparently was having difficulty adjusting to Major, who is in his first season as Charlotte's coach. He indicated in his Twitter account during the preseason that he missed former coach Bobby Lutz and missed a preseason practice while his father was visiting from out of town that was described at the time by Major as a "misunderstanding."

Spears also was suspended by Major for Charlotte's season opener against Gardner-Webb and for the first game of last season by Lutz.

Against Oregon State in the last game Spears played for the 49ers, he played just two minutes in the second half despite not being in foul trouble.

The 49ers (4-6) play seventh-ranked Tennessee on Friday at Time Warner Cable Arena.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

49ers' frustrations deepen

Charlotte had five players play 28 minutes or more in the 49ers' 82-68 loss against Davidson on Saturday. The long minutes are starting to take their toll.

“It’s obvious,” said point guard Jamar Briscoe, who played 35 minutes with a sore Achilles. “We’re hitting a wall defensively after 25 or 30 minutes every game. It’s tough, because you want high energy in practice and to be that intense in games. But it’s hard to balance that. Even though we’re only playing seven or eight guys, we’ve got to get through it. We’ve got to find a way.”

Davidson coach Bob McKillop said the game plan was to try and wear the 49ers down. Davidson played 10 guys, eight of whom played 10-plus minutes.

-- Coach Alan Major didn't know if forward K.J. Sherrill will be back from a knee injury in time for next Friday's game against No. 11 Tennessee at Time Warner Cable Arena. The Volunteers will be ranked higher than that by game time, incidentally, since they upset No. 3 Pitt on Saturday. Sherrill has been practicing lightly recently, but hasn't been in any contact practices and Major won't play him until that happens.

-- Major has at least kept his sense of humor about the injures that continue to plague his team. Of Charles Dewhurst, who hurt his knee in preseason then broke his finger earlier this week in practice after he had been cleared to play, Major said: 
"The next time he's ready to go, I'm going to lock him in a room with security guards and hound dogs and bolt him to a table. He's going to make sure he looks both ways when he crosses the street on campus."

-- Since it's been three years since Charlotte and Davidson last played, most players on both teams were getting their first taste of the rivalry. Davidson's JP Kuhlman said he was impressed with how many 49ers fans (appeared to be several hundred tucked in an upper corner of Belk Arena).

-- Briscoe continues to be bothered by the sore Achilles, which he says he hurt Tuesday against Winthrop by coming down awkwardly on it when he made a long pass to An'Juan Wilderness.

"It's a mental thing," said Briscoe, who wore a protective boot on his foot until game time. "It did bother me, but it didn't hinder me from doing stuff. I try not to think about it, because I made up my mind that I was going to play."

Friday, December 10, 2010

Briscoe prognosis shifts to "optimistic" for Davidson

Point guard Jamar Briscoe, who hurt his Achilles tendon against Winthrop on Tuesday, missed practice again Friday but the team is "optimistic" he'll play Saturday at Davidson.

Briscoe, who remains in a walking boot, was listed as "questionable" for Davidson on Thursday.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Briscoe questionable for Davidson with sore Achilles

In yet another piece of bad injury news, Charlotte point guard Jamar Briscoe has a sore Achilles tendon and is "questionable" for Saturday's game at Davidson, according to a school spokesman.

Briscoe was in a walking boot today.

If Briscoe doesn't play, the point guard duties would shift to shooting guard Derrio Green. Shooting guard responsibilities would go to Sirin Gokhan and walk-on Colby Lewis.

Charlotte already has lost guard Charles Dewhurst for four weeks with a broken finger. Forward K.J. Sherrill should be back in a few weeks from a knee injury. Forward Shamari Spears (suspension) and guard Luka Voncina (eligibility issues) are also out.

Green finding new ways to score

49ers guard Derrio Green's shooting slump continues this season, but he's been trying to different things on the floor to shake himself out of it.

But Green also wasn't a great shooter for Charlotte last season, his first with the 49ers after transferring from Gulf Coast (Fla.) Community College.

Green is making 30.6 percent of his shots (25.8 from 3-point range), down significantly from his 36.5 percent mark (31.3 from 3) last season. He's averaging 11.9 points this season after averaging 13.1 as a sophomore.

Green has been mixing up his game, driving to the basket a lot and getting to the foul line 4.5 times per game (up from 3.1 last season). Green was 2 for 10 (1 for 5 from 3-point ranger) and went to the line six times in a victory against Winthrop on Tuesday.

"When people know you're not just a catch and shoot guy, the other team can put that on the scouting report that you're not in the category of just a shooter," 49ers coach Alan Major said. "We do this with all our players, but we want to find out what Derrio's strength is and expand it.

"We'd like to make him more of a complete guard, where he can handle the ball, pull up, play mid-range, pass, drive and kick as well. That's in addition to him making open shots, which is his strength. He's done a nice job of embracing what we're asking him to do. If he can get to the (foul) line six times a game, I'd be happy with that."

With Charlotte's depth problems in the backcourt, Green is averaging 36.7 minutes per game, seventh most in the Atlantic 10 (point guard Jamar Briscoe's 35.9 are eighth most in the league). He plays the point when Briscoe is out of the game.

"(Green) has logged a lot of minutes in a short period of time," said Major. "To his credit, he's battled."

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Major: 'Something special's going to happen'

With four players (including two walk-ons) on the bench, Charlotte beat Winthrop 68-57 Tuesday. Charles Dewhurst's broken finger was the latest dose of bad news for the 49ers pregame, but their resiliency against the Eagles gave coach Alan Major lots of hope: “I don’t know when it will happen, but it will happen and I keep believing it. Something special is going to happen with this group. I don’t know what that means. But if we keep going, keep fighting and don’t crack, the game honors that. If you do things right – even if you don’t win every game -- the game will find ways to take care of you.”
-- The 49ers sure didn't look good against a full-court press the Eagles threw at them during the second half of the 68-57 victory. Charlotte, which had just three turnovers in the first half, turned it over 10 times in the second half as a 42-18 halftime lead dissolved to just a six-point margin with under 3 minutes remaining.
Major's take: "We got ahead of ourselves a little bit. We always want to make sure we keep a buddy system in the backcourt and one guy was back there by himself. But we got it straightened out."

-- The 49ers shot 64.3 percent in the first half and 18.2 percent in the second half (making just 4 of 22 shots).

-- Winthrop's Reggie Middleton said his team knew the 49ers are shorthanded and wanted to tire them out. East Carolina's players said the same thing about Charlotte last week. Derrio Green admitted he was tired after the game. He's still struggling with his shot, going 2 for 10. But he's also going to the basket a lot, which is a good way to bust out of a slump.

-- Javarris Barnett, who's getting lots of playing time with Shamari Spears suspended, didn't score but had six rebounds, five on the defensive end. Phil Jones continues to rebound well, getting eight.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Dewhurst breaks finger -- out again

Charles Dewhurst's lousy luck continues.

Hours after it was announced he would probably play for the first time this season Tuesday against Winthrop, Dewhurst broke his finger Monday and is out for an indefinite period of time.

Dewhurst, who had been practicing since Friday after injuring his knee in October, broke his left index finger Monday afternoon in practice. He was to see doctors later tonight or Tuesday, when it will probably be announced what Dewhurst's prognosis is.

Dewhurst, who played at Charlotte Latin, announced after last season that he would forego his senior season, but changed his mind over the summer. He's had injury problems for much of his career at Charlotte.

Dewhurst 'probable' for Winthrop

Charlotte's depth problems in the backcourt might be alleviated some Tuesday against Winthrop with the return of Charles Dewhurst, who is listed as "probable" after missing the first eight games of the season with an injured knee.

Dewhurst, who came back for his senior season after initially deciding to pass up his final year of eligibility, would provide sorely needed depth at the guard spot. He's been practicing with the team since Friday. Gokhan Sirin and walk-on Colby Lewis have been spelling point guard Deuce Briscoe and 2-guard Derrio Green, who are both among the Atlantic 10 leaders in minutes played.

Forward K.J. Sherrill, who also hurt his knee in the preseason, might be back in two weeks, if his recovery continues at the same pace it's been going.

Also, although the 49ers aren't saying anything about the status of the suspended Shamari Spears, he wasn't at practice Monday, meaning it's virtually certain he won't play against Winthrop.

-- Fans are asked to bring an unwrapped toy to tonight's game for the Toys For Tots campaign.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

'Let Me Play' raises more than $90,000

The 49ers Athletic Foundation's "Let Me Play Luncheon" raised more than $90,000 for the school's women's athletic programs.

The money was raised at November's "Let Me Play" luncheon and surpassed a goal of $75,000.

“I’m overwhelmed by the support,” said 49ers athletics director Judy Rose in a statement. “We continue to benefit from the generosity of this community and it is due to this great support that we have been able to institute important enhancements to our program. As for this event, in particular, I am thrilled to see the number and variety of people who see the importance that athletics can play in the development of young women.”

More on the "Let Me Play" luncheon, from 49ers sports information:

Charlotte’s first ladies: Samara Foxx and Lisa Lewis Dubois served as co-chairs for the 2010 Let Me Play Luncheon, which was sponsored by Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Presbyterian Hospital, OrthoCarolina and UNC Charlotte.

Over 300 people attended the Nov. 16 luncheon, held at the Charlotte Convention Center. Amy Vance, Chief Operating Officer of Presbyterian Hospital served as the keynote speaker. Among those in attendance were past chairs Dale Halton, Betty Chafin Rash, Pat Rodgers and Mary Lou Babb as well as university Chancellor Dr. Philip Dubois, 49ers women’s basketball coach Karen Aston, Charlotte Bobcats head coach Larry Brown and the full contingent of coaches from the 49ers women’s teams. In addition, the 49ers welcomed several former 49ers student-athletes to the event.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Former 49er Trevin Parks gets CIAA honor

Guard Trevin Parks, who transferred from Charlotte to Johnson C. Smith during the offseason, was recently named the CIAA's newcomer of the week.

Parks, who got little playing time with the 49ers last season as a freshman, is the Golden Bulls' second-leading scorer, averaging 12.8 points per game and 4.0 assists.

With the 49ers' lack of depth in the backcourt, they might have been able to use Parks this season. Until Charles Dewhurst comes back from a knee injury and when/if Luka Voncina is declared eligible by the NCAA, Charlotte's only options off the bench are Gokhan Sirin and walk-on Colby Lewis.

Pry resigns as golf coach

Adam Pry has resigned as Charlotte's golf coach for personal reasons.

Pry, who will be reassigned temporarily within the athletic department, joined Charlotte in 2008 and took over the head coaching job in 2009, replacing Jamie Green.

Assistant coach Andrew DiBitetto was named the team's interim coach and will guide the team through the end of the 2011 season.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A view from the outside

-- East Carolina coach Jeff Lebo had an interesting take on the 49ers after his team's 62-61 victory against Charlotte on Wednesday:

"They're a program that -- if you take the ACC out of (it) -- has been very consistent. They win 20 games. They're the talk of the state outside the ACC," said Lebo. "(Beating them) gives us some respect."

If that means the 49ers have a target on their backs when they play other in-state rivals (non-ACC, if following Lebo's point), new Charlotte coach Alan Major hasn't noticed it yet. Charlotte has already played Carolinas teams including Gardner-Webb, S.C. State, Coastal Carolina and East Carolina twice. Charlotte also used to be in Conference USA with East Carolina.

"Maybe I  I haven't been here long enough," said Major "Some of that may be because of last season (when Charlotte won 19 games), but a lot probably goes back to days of being in the same conference. A lot of times rivalries spill over when you're not in the same league anymore. So you can see how that sentiment could still be there, because it sounds like there were some pretty good games in the past between both schools.

"A lot of schools you recruit against too. So when you win one of those battles, it can give you something to talk about when you're recruiting."

-- Both teams took good care of the ball Wednesday. Charlotte had just six turnovers and East Carolina had seven.

-- Although Charlotte had just four players on the bench because of Shamari Spears suspension, injuries and eligibility issues, the 49ers' subs still outscored East Carolina's 25-22. Center Phil Jones had 14 points and guard Gokhan Sirin added 11. Sirin's 3 pointer gave the 49ers what were nearly their winning points with 14.1 seconds left.

-- Sirin played 21 minutes, which allowed the starting backcourt of Jamar Briscoe and Derrio Green to get some rest. Briscoe and Green were both averaging 37 minutes entering the game, but played 32 and 33 minutes, respectively, against the Pirates. Briscoe played an excellent floor game (six assists, no turnovers), but was just three-of-13 shooting.


East Carolina pre-game observations

A few thoughts before hitting the road for Greenville for tonight's 49ers game against East Carolina...

-- With Shamari Spears out again tonight (nothing official yet, but don't count on it because he didn't practice Monday), we'll see if the 49ers interior offense runs as smoothly as it did against Radford. Chris Braswell and Phil Jones seemed to have more room to operate down low in Spears' absence.  Jones' 7 for 7 game against Radford, included the most field goals without a miss for a 49er since An'Juan Wilderness went 8 for 8 against Richmond in 2008.

-- The 49ers are shooting well from 3-point range lately (45% against Oregon State, 40% against Radford). East Carolina allows opponents make less than 25% of their 3-pointers. Charlotte was 6 of 18 (33%) against the Pirates in Charleston.

-- Shamarr Bowden, who played at Charlotte as a freshman last season, will play at East Carolina next season. He's at Chipola (Fla.) Junior College this season.

-- Dave Odom, dad of 49ers assistant Ryan Odom, was head coach at East Carolina from 1979-82.

-- Pirates point guard Brock Young hurt his knee in the offseason and is just now working his way back into shape. Young, a preseason all-Conference USA pick, wasn't much of a factor in Charlotte's victory against the Pirates in Charleston (six points in 22 minutes). He dished his 500th career assist on Saturday against UNC Greensboro.