CHARLOTTE – Charlotte coach Ron Sanchez frequently talks about his team using every opportunity to learn. Saturday, the 49ers learned how to win an offensive shootout.
Charlotte scored its highest point total in two seasons under Sanchez and tied an all-time high for single-season wins in Halton Arena, fighting off UTSA, 91-84, Saturday afternoon.
“We are very thankful for our effort, for the ‘W’, and the way that we competed,” Sanchez commented after the game. “I’m just glad that we shot the ball well from the perimeter, and we made the free throws that we needed to make.”
Charlotte (14-9, 8-4 Conference USA) jumped out strong, leading by as many as nine points in the first eight minutes of the game. A Milos Supica bucket afforded that advantage, putting Charlotte ahead, 18-9. UTSA (11-14, 5-7) stormed back, with a Luka Barisic triple capping a 10-1 burst that drew the game level at 19. The visiting Roadrunners countered another 49er run, drawing within three, but Charlotte maintained a 41-36 margin at the interval.
UTSA remained close over the opening 20, despite shooting 12-of-31 (38.7 percent) from the floor. The Roadrunners converted 9-of-11 free throws, while Charlotte hit just 6-of-14 to go along with its 15-for-28 performance from the deck.
UTSA guards Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace took over the contest for a bit in the second half, scoring seven points in a row between them to prevent Charlotte from stretching its lead greater than two possessions. The 49ers finally created some separation midway through the stanza, as a 17-8 burst put the home side ahead by 12.
The lead remained at two possessions until another UTSA spurt brought uncomfortable murmurs to the Halton Arena crowd. The Roadrunners went on an 11-4 run to cut the lead to three, and the margin remained between three and five for several minutes, thanks to the play of Wallace and Jackson.
The 49ers held a four-point advantage with just under three minutes to play, before Drew Edwards deflected away a Jackson three-point try. The block paid off, as Jordan Shepherd cashed in a triple on the other end and ran the lead back to seven. Jackson made a free throw with 1:20 to play to slice the lead back to five at 81-76, but the star junior fouled out after committing fouls on the next two Charlotte possessions. UTSA could draw no closer.
The victory pushed Charlotte to 12-1 at Halton Arena and extended the 49ers’ home win streak to nine games.
“(Halton Arena) is where we have the most confidence,” Shepherd said. “We’re here every day, we’re comfortable here.”
“It’s not that we haven’t played well on the road,” Sanchez added. “We lost in overtime, we’ve lost two-point, three-point ballgames. We’re there.”
Jackson came into the contest as the nation’s second-leading scorer at 27.1 points per game, trailing only Marquette’s Markus Howard. The 49ers held Jackson under his average, though he tallied 25 points on 7-of-18 from the floor. Jackson and Wallace combined for 52 for the Roadrunners.
“Those two guys – at one point, I thought they were like Batman and Robin, but it’s more like Batman and Superman,” Sanchez said. “As hard as we tried to guard them today, they still had 25 and 27 points apiece. Again, tip your hat to them for what they did on the floor.
“We wanted to shut those two guys down. We wanted them to not get their average and tried to hold them below their average. That’s why I say we tip our hat, because we really tried.”
“Those guys are incredible scorers. The thing, too, is that they have a really good team around them,” Shepherd added. “You can focus on them, but those other guys can get hot, too.”
Barisic joined Jackson and Wallace in double figures, scoring 14 points in 19 minutes off the bench.
Shepherd paced four 49ers in double figures, tallying 26 on 8-of-13 from the floor and snaring seven boards. Malik Martin added 19, while Jahmir Young contributed 16 and Drew Edwards 13. Charlotte assisted 20 times on 27 made baskets.
Both teams return to conference play Thursday night. UTSA hosts Marshall in a 9:00 (Eastern) tip from the Convocation Center. Charlotte travels to Denton, Texas, to face off with league leader North Texas. That game is slated to commence at 8:00, and will be streamed on ESPN3.