CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The Charlotte basketball program has been a bit of a work in progress throughout the season, with the transition from Mark Price to interim coach Houston Fancher. To hear Fancher tell it, some of the key expectations from that transition are starting to appear.
Charlotte dropped its fourth Conference USA game in five tries, falling 73-63 Saturday night to co-leader Western Kentucky before an announced crowd of 3,845 at Halton Arena. Fancher’s tone was nowhere near frustration in his postgame remarks, however.
“The underlying factor right now is that the Niners are playing their tails off, effort-wise. I’m really, really proud of what they’re doing from an effort standpoint,” said Fancher to the media. “I’m convinced it’s (the answer) in that locker room. We’re gonna keep driving until we pull it out of them.”
The first half was a slog for both teams. Charlotte converted on the first two buckets of the game, holding a lead for nearly two minutes on a Western Kentucky team that had trailed for just 6:43 of its first four Conference USA contests. The Hilltoppers then countered with a 13-2 run over the next four-plus minutes. A Lamonte Bearden free throw at the 5:13 mark gave WKU its largest lead of the half at ten points. Austin Ajukwa knocked down a jumper with just over two minutes to play that provided the interval margin. The clubs combined to make just 18-of-54 tries in the period, missing all 15 combined three-point attempts. 20 of Western Kentucky’s 28 first-half points came in the paint, despite five missed Hilltopper layups.
“I don’t know that we’ve guarded anybody better in the last three years than we guarded tonight. They were (shooting) 29 percent from the floor in the first half. I thought we really guarded well, but we weren’t scoring the ball. We missed a lot of opportunities on the offensive end,” said Fancher. “Our defense kept us in the game. They did.”
Western Kentucky (13-5, 5-0 Conference USA) got five straight points from Darius Thompson to start the second half, triggering a timeout from Fancher. The Hilltopper advantage rested comfortably in double digits during a string in which the visitors canned seven of nine tries from the field. Charlotte (5-11, 1-4) kept the lead from ballooning further, dropping seven of nine tries in a hot stretch of their own. A Jon Davis dunk just before the under-12 media timeout capped that string and knifed the Western Kentucky lead to five, bringing the Charlotte faithful to its feet. A Davis layup at the 8:47 mark lowered the Western advantage to a precarious four points.
From there, though, Western Kentucky hit the gas and pulled away. A 6-0 Western burst quickly extended the lead back to double digits, where it stayed for the virtual remainder of the contest.
Four Hilltoppers finished the game in double figures. Redshirt junior guard Bearden paced his club with 19 points on 6-for-9 shooting, despite fouling out in just 27 minutes of game action. Virginia transfer Darius Thompson scored 13 points on 4-for-12 shooting, hauling in eight boards and dishing out six of his team’s eight assists. Freshman guard Taveion Hollingsworth and graduate transfer Dwight Coleby added 10 apiece. Coleby notched a double-double for the Toppers, snatching 12 rebounds.
Davis led all scorers with 26 points, including 11-of-12 from the line. Andrien White contributed 18 for Charlotte, despite battling a thumb injury his coach mentioned in his remarks to the media. Center Jailan Haslem pulled down 12 rebounds for the Niners. Haslem’s play drew particular praise from his coach.
“Nobody epitomizes our level of effort more than this guy right here (Haslem),” said Fancher. “That’s why we recruited him, because he just competes. He got three shots tonight, and probably played as hard as anybody on the floor all night long, because that’s not what it’s about. It’s not about him getting shots, it’s about him playing hard for his team. That’s what we’re continuing to instill in everybody.”
“One thing that Coach Fancher harps on me (about) is to bring a lot of hustle, bring a lot of toughness to the team,” said Haslem. “They’ve been doing pretty [well] in these past few games, and it was just my mindset that they’re not gonna do that when they come in here.”
Both teams return to conference play Thursday. Western Kentucky returns home to Diddle Arena to host UAB in a game slated to begin at 8:00 (Eastern). Charlotte travels to Florida International for a 7:00 (Eastern) tilt.
One thing’s for sure, though. The 49ers have a believer in their coach.
“I’m really excited about how hard they’re competing. As long as they keep doing that for us, we’ve gotta keep supporting them, and we’re going to. We’re gonna keep pushing, and we’re gonna keep driving,” said Fancher. “We’re gonna go on the road and try to win a couple. That’s our next step.”
WESTERN KENTUCKY 73, CHARLOTTE 63
WESTERN KENTUCKY (13-5, 5-0 C-USA): Coleby 3-8 4-4 10, Johnson 3-10 2-4 8, Bearden 6-9 5-6 19, Hollingsworth 5-11 0-0 10, Thompson 4-12 4-7 13, Anderson 3-4 3-6 9, Diagne 1-4 0-0 2, Nelson 0-1 0-0 0, Ohmer 0-5 2-2 2. Totals 25-64 20-29 73.
CHARLOTTE (5-11, 1-4): Garvin 3-5 0-0 6, Haslem 2-3 0-0 4, White 5-15 8-8 18, Davis 7-18 11-12 26, Ajukwa 3-12 2-2 9, McGill 0-1 0-0 0, Supica 0-1 0-0 0, Murphy 0-2 0-0 0, Thomas 0-1 0-0 0, Vasic 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-58 21-22 63.
Halftime — Western Kentucky 28-20. 3-Point Goals—Western Kentucky 3-14 (Johnson 0-3, Bearden 2-2, Hollingsworth 0-3, Thompson 1-4, Diagne 0-1, Ohmer 0-1), Charlotte 2-15 (White 0-4, Davis 1-5, Ajukwa 1-3, McGill 0-1, Murphy 0-2). Fouled Out — Bearden (WKU), Haslem (CHA). Rebounds — Western Kentucky 46 (Johnson 14), Charlotte 38 (Haslem 12). Assists — Western Kentucky 8 (Thompson 6), Charlotte 5 (White/Davis 2). Total Fouls — Charlotte 24, Western Kentucky 17. Technical — NA. A — 3845.
Points in the Paint —Western Kentucky 40, Charlotte 32. Points off Turnovers —Charlotte 13, Western Kentucky 9. Second-Chance Points — Western Kentucky 12, Charlotte 6. Fast Break Points — Charlotte 14, Western Kentucky 6. Bench Points — Western Kentucky 13, Charlotte 0.