Thursday, November 29, 2012

Making sense of CUSA moves

Conference USA announced Thursday that it has added Middle Tennessee State and Florida Atlantic, effective no later than the 2014 season.

As conference realignment continues to swirl at a seemingly out-of-control pace, here are a few thoughts about the league's new look (which continues to change substantially) and how the moves might affect the Charlotte 49ers (not to mention trying not to be confused by references to FIU and FAU):

-- Charlotte is no doubt heart-broken about the loss earlier this week of East Carolina to the Big East (in football only). That was going to be a great football rivalry (although there's nothing to say they can't play nonconference games against each other).

-- By adding Middle Tennessee and Florida Atlantic, CUSA stayed at 14 schools and kept with its stated goal of having schools in major media markets. Middle Tennessee, which is located in Murfreesboro, is part of the Nashville TV market, which ranks 29th. FAU is in Boca Raton and benefits from the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach market (as does Florida International, another recent addition).

-- So here's how CUSA's East and West divisions could break down in 2015, when Charlotte comes into the league (remember, CUSA is losing ECU, SMU, Houston, Tulane, Memphis and Central Florida).

Florida International
Florida Atlantic
Old Dominion
Middle Tennessee

North Texas
Louisiana Tech
Southern Miss

-- I've heard from some Charlotte fans wondering why the 49ers can't get in the Big East now. After its most recent defections, the new Big East will stretch from sea to shining sea and include what seems to be about half of the current Conference USA. Why would Charlotte want to be in that league? Especially if Cincinnati and/or UConn are the next to bail.

-- Left out of the discussion again is Appalachian State, which still wants to move up to FBS. The Mountaineers could be a logical choice for the Sun Belt, which just lost Middle Tennessee and FAU.

-- And when Charlotte starts football in 2015, this will all have changed several times again anyway, I'd bet.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Why Braswell isn't starting; football gets a kicker

A few Charlotte 49ers notes while waiting for tonight's 12:30 tip against Northeastern for the Great Alaska Shootout championship:

-- Why isn't Chris Braswell starting? After being suspended for the first game of the season, Braswell hasn't started, instead coming off the bench behind freshmen Willie Clayton and Darion Clark as the 49ers have won their first five games.

The reason Braswell hasn't started since coming back is pretty simple: Coach Alan Major doesn't want to mess with what's working (for the time being).

“Our coaches, like anyone else, want to stay with what you’re doing,” said Major. “Probably one of the reasons we’ve had some success early in the season is Braz has come in with great energy. He’s also going against some second-level defenders, and that’s having an impact.”

Braswell is averaging 24.3 minutes (fourth on the team behind Perria Henry, 32.6; Terrence Williams, 26.6; DeMario Mayfield, 25.0). Those minutes are significantly less than last season, when he averaged 29.8 and scored 15.8 points and 7.6 rebounds.

But he's got more help in the front court this season with Clark (20.0) Clayton (18.0 minutes), so his court time might have gone down anyway.

Don't expect Braswell to be a candidate for the Atlantic 10 sixth-man-of-the-year award, however. He'll be back in the starting lineup soon, I'd bet.

Mayfield, incidentally, also might have been a starter had he not been suspended the first two games of the season. But he's been effective off the bench, too, as his 17 points against Oral Roberts in the Alaska semifinals attest.

-- The 49ers football team picked up a commitment from Concord Cannon School kicker Blake Brewer. Brewer, who has made has made a 52-yarder, has said also had interest from North Carolina, N.C. State, Tennessee and Virginia. Here's a story the Observer's Sergio Tovar wrote about Brewer in August.

-- If you're heading to the women's basketball game Saturday night against Kansas State, you'll see football coach Brad Lambert on the bench serving as an honorary assistant coach. Lambert was a defensive back at K-State in the 1980s. 

Friday, November 23, 2012

Unbeaten 49ers take down Texas State

The Charlotte 49ers improved to 4-0 with a 73-64 victory against Texas State in the first round of the Great Alaska Shootout late Thursday/early Friday in Anchorage, Alaska.

The 49ers, off to their fastest start since 1995, will face Oral Roberts (3-1) at 1:30 a.m. Saturday in the semifinals. The other semifinal matches Belmont and Northeastern at 11 p.m. Friday. Consolation-round games have California-Riverside facing Alaska-Anchorage at 5 p.m. and Loyola Marymount facing Texas State at 7 p.m.

Charlotte allowed a 10-point second-half lead to evaporate against the Bobcats (2-2), before the 49ers went on an 11-0 run in the game's final 4 minutes, 19 seconds. Charlotte overcame 22 turnovers and a dismal night at the free-throw line (13 of 28) to win.

49ers point guard Pierria Henry had a dominant game, scoring 12 points, grabbing a career-high 11 rebounds to go along with seven assists and three steals.

"Pierria had that look in his eye in warmups," said 49ers coach Alan Major. "I don't always know what that means, but tonight it was good.'

Center Chris Braswell led the 49ers with 18 points and eight rebounds; freshman guard Denzel Ingram had 11 points, making two-of-three 3 pointers.

"Basketball is a game of runs," said Henry. "They had theirs, we had ours. We just kept the faith and never got down. We stopped making simple mistakes."


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sunday news wrap-up

Plenty of news to report this Sunday afternoon:

-- The 49ers men's soccer team was eliminated from the NCAA tournament with a 1-0 loss at No. 3-seed Georgetown. Charlotte finishes at 15-4-3. The Hoyas scored right before halftime to advance to next week's third round.

The game was fairly even: both teams had eight shots, with Georgetown owning the advantage in corner kicks 5-4. Charlotte played a man down for the final 10 minutes when Aaron Weldon was sent off after his second yellow card for a hard tackle.

-- Charlotte freshman football player Prince Mayela was shot in an off-campus incident Saturday night. Mayela's wound was in the hip area and he will be OK. Mayela's former West Mecklenburg High teammate, Tashion Singleton, was also injured in the incident. Singleton, a defensive lineman, plays at Appalachian State now.

-- Sophomore men's basketball player E. Victor Nickerson sprained his ankle in Saturday's victory against Lamar. X-rays were negative. His status for next week's Great Alaska Shootout hasn't yet been determined.

Highlights from football scrimmage

Some highlights and stats from  Saturday's 49ers final football scrimmage of the fall (attended by nearly 2,500) in Charlotte's football stadium:
-- Five touchdowns were scored -- running back Alan Barnwell on runs of 4 and 1 yards; Austin Duke on a 6-yard reverse; and two TD passes from Karsten Miller (a 24-yarder to Darius Smalls and a 43-yarder to Ja'Quil Capel.
-- Barnwell ran for 116 yards on 16 carries, including a 47-yarder. That's an impressive 7.3 yards per carry.
-- Miller was 6-of-8 for 105 yards and the two TDs. Matt Johnson was 9-of-10 for 83 yards, while Lee McNeill was also 9-of-10 for 63. Capel caught five passes for 98 yards.
-- Nose guard Larry Ogunjobi led the defense with six tackles, while Desmond Cooper and Alex Petzke both had five. Nico Alcalde had 1.5 sacks and Ogunjobi and Brandon Banks each had one.

 -- Coach Brad Lambert's take:

“Barnwell’s a great runner – a great physical back. I feel like we’ve got some playmakers with Ja’quil, Will Thomas and Austin Duke. One thing that’s real exciting is that we have some playmakers out there and our offensive line is playing extremely hard.

“Our secondary has really down a nice job of hawking the ball. The last two, three scrimmages we’ve come out and turned the ball over and gotten the ball. We’ve got to take care of it on offense and got to force turnovers. That’s one big stat. We have some playmakers in all the right spots.”

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Observations from Lamar

Observations from Charlotte's 70-49 victory Saturday over Lamar:

-- The 21-point winning margin isn't the largest in coach Alan Major's two-plus seasons at Charlotte. What is? Answer below.

-- Ten 49ers played at least 10 minutes. It's hard to sort out what the best combinations are going to be right now, with DeMario Mayfield playing for the first time Saturday and so many freshmen  making a big difference. This much is obvious: freshmen forwards Darion Clark and Willie Clayton provide athleticism and energy -- not to mention basketball skills -- that this program has been lacking in recent seasons. And Denzel Ingram might have the outside shooting touch that hasn't been there.

Major's task is to fit those pieces together with a proven star in Chris Braswell, a solid point guard in Pierria Henry and another energy guy in Mayfield. And veteran J.T. Thompson is also going to be in the rotation. Terrence Williams looks like he'll be a reliable scorer in the 12-14 point range, although E. Victor Nickerson still seems to be forcing things offensively.

-- It also looks like redshirt freshman center Mike Thorne will soon be a very nice player. He's got a nice touch around the basket. Major is working him in gradually.

-- The good news: Freshman guard Denzel Ingram was 3 of 4 from 3-point range. The bad news: The rest of the team was zero for 13.

-- Here's Lamar coach Pat Knight's take on the 49ers:
"I don't want to put any pressure on him, but Braswell is an NBA caliber kid. If he keeps working and getting better, he brings so much to the table. They're so big. That Clayton kid, he can post up. They move the ball well and have good spacing. They pretty much have a motion offense going, so they don't run sets that are easy to guard, with guys going from point a to b to c. From a guarding standpoint, they were hard, the way they space and post you up. They're going to cause a lot of people problems. And I was impressed with their defense. They really get after you man to man."

-- Answer to above question: Davidson last season, 84-61.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

49ers women's basketball signs 5

The Charlotte 49ers' women's basketball program signed five players to national letters of intent Wednesday:

-- Tanisha Brown, 5-11, G, Myrtle Beach High: Averaged 13.5 ppg, 11.3 rpg, 3.9, apg, 2.6  blocks, 2.6 steals as a junior, despite a knee injury that sidelined her after January. Ranked by one publication as the No. 2 player in South Carolina.

-- Mylia Garner, 6-0, F, Jordan-Matthews High: Averaged 19.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, 2.7 steals, 2.5 assists as a junior on team that went 31-0 and won N.C. 2A title. Was state tournament MVP.

-- Ciara Gregory, 5-7, G, Jeannette (Pa.) High: Averaged 27.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 5.0 steals, 4.8 assists as junior. Had a 50-point game that included a 50-footer made at the halftime buzzer.

-- Kenya Olley, 6-3, F, Spartanburg Dorman High: Averaged 13.6 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.9 blocks as a junior, and was an 80 percent free-throw shooter.

-- Danielle Webster, 5-8, G, Norfolk (Va.) Christian High: Averaged 19.4 points, 8.5 rebounds, 4.7 steals, 4.4. assists as a junior and was all-state second team.

Observations from Georgia Southern

Observation's from the 49ers' 66-53 victory against Georgia Southern:

-- Coach Alan Major would love for his team to be defined by how it played against the Eagles. It was defense (limiting Georgia Southern to 34.8 percent shooting and forcing 12 turnovers) and rebounding (a 40-19 advantage, including 24-10 on the defensive boards) that won this game. The 49ers did a good job on Eagles star forward Eric Ferguson, who scored 11 points on 3-of-13 shooting.

-- Not as good, though, were the 49ers with the ball, turning it over 19 times. Georgia Southern pressed for most of the game, rattling the freshmen in particular (Denzel Ingram had four, Willie Clayton three and Darion Clark three).

-- Chris Braswell made his debut, not starting (after being suspended for the season opener Friday), but scoring 21 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. Major was just as happy with Braswell's defense (he had two steals and six defensive rebounds).

-- J.T. Thompson also played for the first time as a 49er, scoring four points to go along with two rebounds. Thompson hasn't played for two years -- missing his last two seasons at Virginia Tech with two separate knee surgeries. He was active on the offensive end, going 2-of-7. His return brought a large cheer from his teammates in the postgame locker room.

-- E. Victor Nickerson was also more aggressive than usual with the ball, going to the basket several times and finishing with seven points and four rebounds.

-- The 49ers were also 2-0 last season, then went to Lamar and lost by 18. That's Charlotte's next opponent on Saturday, this time at Halton Arena. Charlotte will be at full strength in that one, with suspended DeMario Mayfield back.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Familiar foe for 49ers in NCAA soccer tournament

The Charlotte 49ers drew a familiar opponent for the first round of the NCAA soccer tournament.
Charlotte (14-3-3) will face Alabama-Birmingham (10-7-2) Thursday at 7 p.m. at Transamerica Field in a rematch of the 49ers’ 3-1 victory against the Blazers in last season’s second-round game in Birmingham, Ala.

This will actually be the fourth time in three seasons the 49ers and Blazers have played. UAB beat Charlotte 2-1 in overtime in the 2010 regular season, while the 49ers and Blazers tied 1-1 earlier this season.

And next year, the two programs will see each other even more regularly when the 49ers move to Conference USA.

The 49ers-Blazers winner will play Sunday at Georgetown, the tournament’s No. 3 seed.

Admission for Thursday’s game is free for UNC Charlotte students. Tickets go on sale Tuesday at 10 a.m. and are $7 for adults, $3 for youth (17 and under) and $3 (per person) for groups of 10 or more. Group tickets must be purchased in advance by phone before noon Thursday. Information: or call 704-687-4949.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Day-after observations from Charleston Southern victory

Observations from the Charlotte 49ers’ 68-58 season-opening men’s basketball victory Friday against Charleston Southern:

-- There was plenty of teeth-gnashing among 49ers fans when it was announced before the game that center Chris Braswell and guard DeMario Mayfield had been suspended for violating team rules (Mayfield will also miss Tuesday’s game against Georgia Southern). There was also a sense of déjà vu from two seasons ago, when coach Alan Major suspended two starters (Shamari Spears and An’Juan Wilderness) for the season opener and center Phil Jones for the season’s second game.

The difference here, of course, is that the 49ers lost to Gardner-Webb two seasons ago and they beat Charleston Southern on Friday.

Major has been consistent with his players in his now two-plus seasons in at least one area: Break a rule, pay the price. And I will never understand why a coach is criticized for that.

-- The 49ers’ 14-0 run in the first half against the Buccaneers was mostly about energy and enthusiasm from the team’s young players (with a 3-pointer by senior walk-on Colby Lewis thrown in for good measure). But just as impressive was how Charlotte managed a lead that reached as many as 18 points in the second half. Point guard Pierria Henry was key to that, playing a solid floor game (he had one turnover in the second half). Henry also defensively imposed his presence on the Bucs’ small backcourt of Saah Nimley and Arlon Harper with five steals (freshman Denzel Ingram also had four).

-- Freshmen forwards Willie Clayton (eight points, four rebounds) and Darion Clark (six and 11) are more athletic than some of Charlotte’s players in that spot in recent seasons. Clark, in particular, has a nose for the ball. He also showed some strong inside moves Friday. So did redshirt freshman center Mike Thorne, who helped plug the spot vacated by Braswell capably (four points, two rebounds in 15 minutes).

-- Sophomore Terrence Williams played a smart game, finding holes in Charleston Southern’s zone defense for a career-high 19 points. He also had 10 rebounds.

-- Major played Henry and Ingram together several times. Ingram, a scoring point guard in high school, handled the ball most of the time.

-- Braswell will be back Tuesday against Georgia Southern, as will senior J.T. Thompson (knees), who also didn’t play Friday. The Eagles game will start at 9 p.m. so it can be televised on the NBC Sports Network (which has time slots to fill because of the NHL lockout). It will be the second consecutive odd starting time for the 49ers. Friday’s game had a 6 p.m. tipoff, perhaps explaining why Halton Arena was less than half full (attendance was 4,429) for the season opener.


-- After Friday's 1-0 semifinals loss against Virginia Commonwealth, the 49ers will leave the Atlantic 10 without ever having won the league's men's soccer tournament.

Next up for the 49ers is the NCAA tournament. Bids will be announced Monday afternoon. The 49ers (14-3-3) probably have done enough to earn a seed and, with that, a first-round bye next Thursday. If that's the case, Charlotte would host a second-round game next Sunday (Nov. 17).

Friday, November 9, 2012

Charlotte 49ers' Braswell, Mayfield suspended

Charlotte 49ers starters Chris Braswell and DeMario Mayfield have been suspended for Friday's men's basketball season opener against Charleston Southern for violating team rules.

Braswell's suspension is for Friday's game; Mayfield will also miss next Tuesday's game against Georgia Southern.

Braswell, a senior center, is the team's leading returning scorer (15.8) and rebounder (7.6). Mayfield, a junior guard, averaged 11.2 points and 7.0 rebounds last season.

Forward J.T. Thompson (knee injury) will also miss the Charleston Southern game. He is expected to play against Georgia Southern.

It's the second time in coach Alan Major's three seasons at Charlotte that he has suspended players early in the season for violating team rules. Two seasons ago, he suspended then-leading scorer Shamari Spears and An'Juan Wilderness in Major's first game at Charlotte against Gardner-Webb and center Phil Jones for the following game.

Mayfield was also suspended last season for one game after he was arrested for misdemeanor marijuana possession.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

49ers place 4 on all-conference soccer team

Charlotte dominated the Atlantic 10 all-conference teams announced Wednesday.

 Midfielders Donnie Smith and Tyler Gibson, defender Thomas Allen and goalkeeper Klay Davis were named to the first team, with striker Giuseppe Gentile on the second team.

Defender Biko Bradnock-Brennan was named to the all-rookie team and Gibson made the all-academic team.

Smith was the league’s midfielder of the year.

The top-seeded 49ers host the Atlantic 10 tournament this week and will face No. 8 Duquesne in a quarterfinals game at 8 p.m. Thursday at Transamerica Field.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Observations from 49ers football scrimmage

Observations from the 49ers football scrimmage Saturday at McColl-Richardson Field:

-- The scrimmage produced one touchdown and 415 total yards. There were 93 plays, coming from 15 possessions. Not that this means anything now, but Matt Johnson was the quarterback on the first series of plays.

-- The 49ers look to have some big-play capability on offense. Receivers Austin Duke and Jaquil Capel (who scored four touchdowns in last summer's East-West All-Star game in Greensboro) both had long gainers. Duke, an Independence High grad who caught six passes for 51 yards, also had a 58-yard run on an end-around. Capel caught five passes for 134 yards, one of them a 54-yarder from Karsten Miller.

-- The 49ers offense got into the red zone five times, but scored just once on a 1-yard run by Alan Barnwell. Coach Brad Lambert said not to read too much into that 20 percent scoring number from the red zone. They haven't practiced their red zone offense at all yet.

-- Charlotte's defense was led by nose guard Larry Ogunjobi (seven tackles, two for a loss), linebacker Mark Pettit (two sacks) and strong safety Kariym Grant (one interception).

--  Some individual stats:
Passing: Matt Johnson, 7-11, 93, 1 int.; Lee McNeill, 9-16, 69; Karsten Miller, 9-17, 91.
Rushing: Alan Barnwell, 20-75-1; Austin Duke, 1-58; Donjore Gainey, 10-33.
Receiving: Austin Duke 6-51; Jacquil Capel 5-134; Donjore Gainey 3-8.

-- The 49ers will obviously have to recruit more running backs, with Barnwell and Gainey the only players on the roster at that position. Lambert thinks Barnwell can be a really good college player and hoped he would have broken at least one big run Saturday. 

-- The game was worked by Conference USA officials. The 49ers also have the league's logo on the field, even though they don't join until 2015 (they'll be an FCS independent in 2013 and '14).

-- Several 49ers basketball players were on hand. Point guard Pierria Henry was an excellent football player in high school as a wide receiver and defensive back. At one time, he planned on going to Marshall to play football.

-- There was plenty of pre-scrimmage tailgating. A crowd of about 1,500 watched the scrimmage. The 49ers will have similar scrimmages in the stadium the next two Saturdays. The scrimmage on Nov. 17 will be Charlotte's final practice of the year until spring.


Friday, November 2, 2012

Football, soccer, women's basketball highlight full weekend

Charlotte’s football team goes on public display Saturday at 12:30 p.m. when the 49ers hold a practice and scrimmage at their new football stadium.

If you’re a fan going, here are a few things to look for:

-- Coach Brad Lambert says he will limit the scrimmage – which should begin around 1 p.m. after 30 minutes of drills – to 70 plays. With only two running backs on the roster – freshmen Alan Barnwell and Donjore Gainey – Lambert doesn’t want them to get overused.

-- The 49ers’ three quarterbacks – Matt Johnson, Karsten Miller and Lee McNeil – will operate a spread offense that will try and stretch the defense all over the field.

-- Watch the action in the trenches, especially between the first units. Offensively, that’s tackles Jamar Covington and Daniel Book, center Thomas LaBianca and guards Mason Sledge and Daniel Blitch. They’ll go against a defensive line that includes nose guards Larry Ogunjobi and Duke Mosby and end Brandon Banks.

-- Incidentally, the game will be officiated by a Conference USA crew. Coincidence?

-- Lambert said his team is excited about playing in front of a crowd, even if it is just a scrimmage. “I just hope some people show up,” he said.

-- There will be no concessions or restrooms available. The football scrimmage will be preceded by the Fall Stroll for Epilepsy fundraiser on the track at Transamerica Field, which begins at 11 a.m.

Soccer, women’s basketball, volleyball too

-- The 49ers men’s soccer team (12-2-3, 6-1-1) can clinch a share of the Atlantic 10 regular-season championship with a victory against George Washington (5-12, 2-6) at 5 p.m. at Transamerica Field in their regular-season finale. The 11th-ranked 49ers are tied with Virginia Commonwealth for first place in the league; the Rams play Richmond on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

If the 49ers and VCU tie for first place, the Rams would receive the top seed in next week’s conference tournament at Transamerica Field by virtue of their 4-1 victory against Charlotte in October. The 49ers will play a quarterfinal game next Thursday at 8 p.m.

-- Charlotte’s women’s basketball team plays a preseason exhibition at 7 p.m. in Halton Arena against Johnson C. Smith. The 49ers, who return all five starters from last season’s WNIT team, open the regular season Nov. 10 at home against N.C. Central. The Golden Bulls have a new coach in Steve Joyner Jr.

-- The 49ers' wrap up their home volleyball season with matches Friday against Dayton at 7 p.m. and Sunday against Xavier at 1.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Observations from Pfeiffer

Observations from Charlotte's 95-51 preseason men's basketball exhibition victory against Pfeiffer on Thursday:

 -- Charlotte didn’t have senior forwards Chris Braswell and J.T. Thompson and junior guard DeMario Mayfield. Mayfield has a sprained ankle, while Braswell and Thompson were held out for precautionary reasons. Braswell broke his foot over the summer; Thompson had two knee surgeries in his final two years at Virginia Tech before transferring to Charlotte. They are all expected to play when the 49ers open the season Nov. 9 against Charleston Southern.

-- That meant the 49ers started three sophomores (point guard Pierria Henry and wings E. Victor Nickerson and Terrence Williams) and two freshmen (forwards Darion Clark and Willie Clayton). The best of the freshmen was the Clark, a rugged 6-foot-6 player who comes from the top-notch high school program Oak Hill (Va.) Academy. Clark scored 19 points and had 12 rebounds and seemed to be around the ball most of the game.

-- Outside shooting, or the lack thereof, has been an issue for Charlotte over the last two seasons. There wasn’t much evidence of that changing against Pfeiffer, although freshman guard Denzel Ingram made four of his five 3-point attempts. And the outside will open up more when Braswell returns.

-- Without Braswell and Thompson, 6-10 redshirt freshman Mike Thorne played 15 minutes. Thorne is a project, but his footwork looked good (if his hands still need some work). He showed a nice touch at the free-throw line, where was 10-of-12. He finished with 14 points, 10 rebounds and had two blocked shots.

-- Who’s going to take up the slack as the No. 2 scorer with forward Javarris Barnett graduated? Could be Williams, who had 16 points on six-of-10 shooting.

-- Pfeiffer played all 17 players on its roster and was led by guard Tayron Gibson’s 13 points. The Falcons open their season Nov. 10 at home against Catawba.