Losing to North Carolina A&T, a team that had yet to win on the road, just wouldn’t look good on the Charlotte 49ers’ record with Conference USA play looming. Yet, there they were, tied at 40-40 at the break, against a team that they should have had no trouble with.
Good thing they turned it around in the 2nd half.
And while the Niners’ 88-72 win was a lot closer at times than the final score would indicate, they had to have felt very fortunate to have avoided being the skidding Aggies’ first win away from the Corbett Center. And they know that there’s still work to be done before a trip down to UTEP to open C-USA play against the Miners on Wednesday night.
“In the first half, we just didn’t stick with our game plan (defensively),” said point guard Pierria Henry. “They had us in scramble mode a little too much. Other than that we were able to keep talking, taking it a play at a time, knowing that at every position we can get better.”
That scramble mode could have potentially turned into panic mode in the second half, as the Aggies led 47-46 with 15:25 left. But the Niners picked up the pressure on both sides of the ball as, thanks to a resurgent and active Willie Clayton’s work in the paint, a one point deficit turned into a 53-47 lead with 12:54 remaining. A&T would get it to 55-51 with 12 minutes left, but a 10-0 run over the next 2:38–capped by back-to-back threes by Shawn Lester and Denzel Ingram and a Lester dunk–built the lead to 65-51. The Aggies would not get closer than eight the rest of the way.
Clayton got it going after a tough first half, scoring ten points and recording five boards in the second stanza. But it was Henry who put together another fill-the-scoresheet night–a season-high 23 points (7-14 FG, 3-5 from three), seven rebounds, seven assists. His four steals put him two away from 4th place on the all-time list.
“It’s a great honor. I didn’t even know I was that close…but I won’t go out of my way to stress to try to get anything,” Henry said. “(But) if it wasn’t for my teammates, I wouldn’t even be close to getting those steals.”
Richaud Pack paced the Aggies with 18 points, with Lamont Middleton chipping in 17.
The Niners and Miners do battle at the Don Haskins Center Wednesday evening at 9pm as C-USA play begins. It won’t be the last trip for Charlotte to UTEP: the conference tournament will be held there in March.