CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Every game presents an opportunity.
On a night days before the Christmas holiday on which Charlotte did not turn in its most crisp effort of the season, coach Ron Sanchez saw the positive. The offense struggled at times, but Sanchez’ defense again brought a stellar effort, limiting Maryland-Eastern Shore to 28 percent from the field and running away with a 66-44 victory in Halton Arena Thursday night.
“Obviously, we’re always happy with a win,” said Sanchez. “I don’t think that we closed it out as sharp as we wanted to … Again, the guys that don’t have that many (playing) experiences need to continue to grow, so that was a great learning opportunity for them.”
The sides engaged in a tight battle through the first 10 minutes. Charlotte (6-4) held a slim 11-8 margin over UMES halfway through the period, but charged out of the second media stoppage and unfurled an extended run. The 49ers went on a 14-2 run from that break, en route to a 20-5 burst that provided them a 31-13 advantage at the interval. Guard Jordan Shepherd again led the charge, matching the Hawks’ first-half output, while Amidou Bamba aided with seven boards.
The Charlotte defense also loomed large in the icy stretch by the visiting Hawks. UMES (1-12) closed the half knocking down just one of their final 11 and two of their final 14 attempts from the field. Charlotte also forced eight of UMES’ 11 first-half turnovers during the run.
“We definitely had spurts where we got a lot of stops,” guard Drew Edwards said. “If we can hold our hats on that side of the ball, then I think we’ll be in pretty good positions at the end of games to win.”
“For us to come out of the gates and defend well, get deflections, and get some easy opportunities out of our defense was really important to get some energy built,” added Sanchez.
The 49ers continued to separate from the Hawks into the second half, as a Shepherd layup 38 seconds into the period put Charlotte ahead by 20. Milos Supica scored eight of his nine points during a 21-11 run, eventually giving his club a 30-point lead on the front end of a two-shot foul. Charlotte continued to clamp down on defense, never allowing UMES closer than the 22-point margin that provided the final. Both sides shot roughly the same percentage in the second half, with UMES slightly ahead at 40.9 percent, compared to Charlotte’s 40 percent.
Charlotte played 13 players on the evening, with 10 of them scoring. Jordan Shepherd led his club for the second game in a row, tallying 20 points on 6-for-14 shooting and 7-for-9 from the line. Guard Jahmir Young added 10. Five 49ers finished with seven points or greater.
UMES was paced by Marlon Adams, who finished with eight points and six boards in 17 minutes off the bench. The Hawks connected on 14-of-50 tries from the deck (6-of-28 from three), and made 14 second-half trips to the line after just one attempt in the opening 20.
Both sides have one game remaining before the Christmas break. UMES will do battle with another Conference USA opponent Sunday, traveling to the Constant Center in Norfolk, Virginia, to do battle with Old Dominion. The Hawks and Monarchs will tip at 2:00 (Eastern) Sunday afternoon. Charlotte stays in-state to face off with East Carolina in Greenville Sunday afternoon at Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum. That game is slated to commence at 4:00.