Re-Focused, Re-Determined, Re-Energized: Niner Basketball

It’s not even February and it’s already been a long season for the Charlotte 49ers. A quick start came to a screeching halt with a blown 11-point lead to USC Upstate and noncompetitive showings to the likes of Davidson, Wake Forest and Florida. The C-USA season started much the same way, with a dominating 25-point win over North Texas but were followed by four consecutive losses to Rice, Western Kentucky, Marshall and Louisiana Tech (just two games of which the Niners were only in contention late). Luckily the next game was against Southern Miss, a C-USA bottom-feeder since Donnie Tyndall left the program ahead of an academic scandal. Charlotte certainly handled the Golden Eagles with ease, leading 78-54 before the teams cleared the benches allowing Southern Miss to close the gap leading to a final score of 82-66.

Up next for Charlotte was a week long break, and the 49ers that emerged were a different team.

Holding an Adjusted Defensive Efficiency of 110.4 (287th Nationally) it was very clear the defense needed work, and the stubborn Old Dominion Monarchs were the next target in the site. The Monarchs had come into the game winner of the last four match-ups, the closest the Niners getting was an overtime defeat at home last season. Over those four games, Charlotte was held to .961 Points Per Possession a game, peaking at 1.015 in last years loss in Norfolk. This was a team the beat us by making points very hard to come by.

The beginning of the game on Saturday was very much like those last four games, Charlotte could not convert a field goal the first 2-1/2 minutes of the game. Although the lead was traded several times over the opening minutes, Old Dominion began to separate themselves from a 17-17 tie by holding Charlotte without a field goal for the 4-1/2 minutes. This drought help push the Monarchs ahead by 12 points, the fourth time in the last five games Charlotte had trailed by double-digits. With 4:17 left in the opening period the physical game reached a boiling point when players from both sides got involved in an altercation following a held ball situation.

The situation started with Andrien White shrugging off the hand of Monarch guard Jordan Baker, which drew a retaliation from Baker. Before the players could be separated Anthony Vanhook had taken a swing at Baker after being hit in the face with Baker’s open hand. After a lengthy review by the officials, all three key players in the skirmish were no longer allowed to participate in the game. Mark Price was forced to adjust his line-up with increased usage from Hudson Price, Najee Garvin and Reid Aube. Jeff Jones was forced to play the remaining 36 minutes without the primary defender for a one, Jon Davis.

Charlotte was able to close the gap to three at the break, trailing 35-38. Seven of the Niner’s last nine points of the half were scored by Davis.

Charlotte came out firing in the 2nd-half, regaining the lead on a Jon Davis lay-up 4:12 into the period, tallying seven of the first eleven points  Charlotte scored to open the period. The other four points came from Austin Ajukwa, having his best game to bet in a Niner uniform. Charlotte has yet to find a reliable 2nd scoring option behind Davis, but Ajukwa showed he can score in a variety of ways; converting three-pointers, mid-range jumpers and at the rim. The remainder of the game saw the lead change hands several times, the largest lead by either team being just four points in the 2nd-half.

Sitting on a 72-71 lead entering the final two minutes the Niner’s offense came to a near halt. Coach Price took timeouts at the beginning of each of the team’s final three possessions, and playing it safe had his guards dribble out the shot clock before heaving jumpers that were off their mark. A foul by Austin Ajukwa sent Monarch’s forward Zoran Talley to the free throw line with 29 ticks left on the clock. A 60% free throw shooter, Talley had a 36% chance at sinking both free throws and he could not overcome those odds and Jon Davis secured the final rebound of the game with the scored tied.

Following the teams final timeout the ball was inbounded to Jon Davis, and with the game on the line he was determined to give the Niners the edge. His words can do the waning moments of the game more justice than anyone else can.

“I knew I was taking the last shot. I was feeling good all game and I told my teammates I was going to go at about eight seconds to make sure we had the last shot,” remarked Davis after the game, “I got up to the three-point line and saw nobody was coming so I got to my spot, stepped back to the elbow to create some space and knocked the shot down.”

The Niners took a 74-72 lead with .8 left on the clock, and the Monarchs were unable to even attempt a shot in the moments remaining in the game.

The two-point edge gave Mark Price just his third win in one possession games (second when you consider that FIU only closed the gap to three points at the buzzer a year ago). It seems that this team is finally ready to pick-up where it left off last season. The goal coming into this season was to turn those close losses into wins, a goal that had been derailed by poor defense showings time and time again. But the win over Old Dominion came at the perfect time, keeping the window open for the Niners to recover their place in the C-USA Standings. Eleven games remain for the Niners, and Charlotte can lose no more than two if it wants a shot (however long it is) at a bye to the C-USA Quarterfinals in March. If the Charlotte team that showed up to play Old Dominion shows up the rest of the season that shot is not as long as it seems.

Ninerlytics of the Week: 

  • Charlotte scored 1.088 PPP for the game, while being held to 25% on three-point shooting. A strong presence in the paint on the free throw line compensated for an off night.
  • Committing just four turnovers over the game’s 68 possessions, Charlotte had a turnover percentage of just 5.9%, the lowest for the Niners since at least the 2001-02 season (the earliest tempo free data available on KenPom.com).
  • The impressive limitation of turnovers happened against an Old Dominion team that forces turnovers on 20.7% of its possessions, 69th best in the NCAA
  • The Monarchs were able to score 1.059 PPP, but needed a fluky night from behind the arc to do so. Inside the arc Charlotte held Old Dominion to below their shooting percentage for the season (40.9% vs Charlotte, 41.5% Overall). The Niners defense have allowed 51.7% shooting inside the arc to this point in the season.

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