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December 6, 2012DAVIDSON After a season ending loss in the Atlantic 10 Tournament against Saint Joseph's, Charlotte 49ers Head Coach Alan Major boiled his offseason message down to two words. The first was "everyday" and the second was "finish."
Both of those concepts took shape in their 73-69 victory over the rival Davidson Wildcats.
In a second half that featured eight ties and seven lead changes, the 49ers took command of the game following the final media timeout with 3:35 remaining in the game.
The 49ers trailed 65-62 and had just turned the ball over on their previous two possessions on offensive fouls. The Wildcats had the ball out of the timeout, but freshman Darion Clark, who was called for the latter offensive foul, forced the Wildcats into a turnover to begin the 49ers rally.
Senior Chris Braswell made two free throws in a one and one situation and then capitalized on Clark's offensive rebound by nailing a 3-pointer at the top of the key to give the 49ers a 67-65 lead with 1:52 remaining.
The Wildcats tied it twice but Pierria Henry gave the 49ers the lead for good on his baseline jumper with 24 seconds remaining.
He iced the game with two free throws in another one-and-one situation, an area he struggled with last season.
The 8-0 start is the best in school history for the 49ers. Some had questioned the legitimacy of their record based on the competition, but the 49ers showed that they will have to be reckoned with after picking up a win in their first true road game of the season.
"I'm just incredibly, incredibly proud of these guys," said Major. "It's hard to keep a team like that down on their home court and our guys just kind of kept taking punches and got on the floor and made some hustle plays. It's just a tremendous win for us, for our team, and that's probably the thing I'm proudest of the most, the guys are trying to be a true team."
Major characterized one of Willie Clayton's rebounds and a hustle play by Henry as "epic plays." This 49er team is exhibiting the toughness and desire to win that previous teams have lacked in recent seasons.
Henry, in particular, struggled in finishing a few games last season. He dedicated himself to working on those things during the offseason.
"He just exhibited a lot toughness and a lot of poise," said Major about Henry. "It's neat seeing guys grow up right in front of your eyes. The house is shaking and he makes two free throws to kind of ice the game. I'm really proud of him."
In a sense, people are watching the 49ers program grow up in front of their eyes this season. They are winning the games they are supposed to and won a big rivalry game against a respected opponent on Wednesday night in a hostile environment.
There is more work to be done - a fact that Major and Clark eluded to after the game. But the foundation that Major envisioned upon accepting the job three years ago is starting to show up on the court.