Tonight at Richmond, the Charlotte 49ers have a chance to do something they've never accomplished in the Atlantic 10.
With a win, the 49ers (15-2, 3-0) would start 4-0 for the first time ever in A10 play. They've won their first three A10 games since their inaugural season in the league, the 2005-06 season. It's a little ironic that they could achieve this in their last season with the league.
There's something else on the line with a win. Alan Major has a chance to even his record (38-39) as a head coach for the first time since he was 1-1 in year one of his tenure.
It won't be easy though. The 49ers have always struggled at the Robins Center, where the Spiders hold a 5-2 mark against them in A10 play. Major is 0-2 at Richmond so far.
However, Major has his best team this time.
"It's a game we'll have to be ready to play," said Major. "It's going to be a tremendous challenge. They're well coached. Chris has done a fantastic job putting that program together. They're probably the most dangerous three-point shooting team in the conference. They got multiple guys that can make them."
The Spiders (11-7, 1-2) boast two of the league's most dangerous 3-point snipers. Senior Darien Brothers shoots 48.5 percent from 3-point range, which leads the A10 and ranks third nationally. Sophomore guard and reigning A10 Rookie of they Year Kendall Anthony shoots 42.5 percent, which ranks eighth in the league.
On the year, the Spiders have shot 37.6 percent from 3-point land, but in three A10 games they've only shot 25 percent.
The 49ers have their own 3-point shooting problems. They have shot 26.7 percent on the season - 18.9 percent in A10 play, which is the worst in the league.
Against the Fordham Rams, the 49ers missed their first nine 3-pointers until DeMario Mayfield knocked one in during the second half.
Despite the 49ers perimeter woes, Major doesn't seem overly concerned.
"I think both teams were so eager to see the ball go in [that] it forced a little bit of impatience," Major said. "It wasn't selfish play, it was guys just wanting to see if they could get us going."
The one guy that has constantly got the 49ers going as of late has been Mayfield. He's shot 57.5 percent from the field and scored 15.2 points per game over the last five contests. He and senior J.T. Thompson provided the biggest lifts off of the bench against the Fordham Rams.
"You hope that makes you tough to prepare for," Major said of his bench production.
Since being reinserted into the starting lineup, senior forward Chris Braswell has struggled with his offensive game. He's missed all 10 of this 3-point attempts in the last five games and has only shot 31.3 percent from the field and has averaged 6.8 points in that span. If the 49ers want to continue their winning ways, he'll have to start performing better.
"Whenever a guy gets in that situation you want to get him back to basics," Major said of Braswell's offensive struggles. "That's what we've been talking about - getting him to do the simple things. I think you try to be more supportive when guys are struggling a little bit. Otherwise they feel even worse if you pile up on them."
1. The 49ers have won four straight games and six of their last seven. The Spiders have lost their last two and five of seven.
2. The Spiders will be without junior forward Derrick Williams. It will mark the fifth straight game the Spiders will be without their top rebounder and second leading scorer.
3. The Spiders are 9-1 at home this year while the 49ers are 3-1 in true road games.
4. Freshman guard Denzel Ingram has struggled since A10 play began. He's only hit 3-of-15 shots from the field while missing all eight of his 3-point attempts.
5. The 49ers held an eight point advantage against the Rams on Wednesday night but turned it over on back-to-back possessions and the Rams cut the lead in half to four. Mayfield tried to push it up the court but had his pass intercepted while on the next possession Henry turned it over while trying to feed it into the post. "You can see the urgency of guys wanting to - you can call it going for the kill shot," said Major. "I think that was the motivation behind DeMario's play. It was the right idea, they just didn't complete it. I always look at the flip side of it, [if we complete those two plays] it's just as easily [a] 12 [point lead]. The intent was right. We got to show those guys that on film and we'll learn from that, we'll grow."
KEYS TO THE GAME
1. Contain Brothers: The 49ers have had the opportunity to take on three unique talents in their first three A10 games. They started with the league's top scorer in Ramon Galloway, who scored 23 points, but it took him 29 field goal attempts to get those points. Then they took on the league's second leading scorer in Xavier Munford, who scored eight points on 3-of-12 shooting. Then, they held Chris Gaston to three points on 1-of-12 shooting. So they've been tested. The 49ers will likely use a quartet of defenders against Brothers and be physical with him anytime he touches the ball. They'll have to contain him better than they did with Michael Snaer of Florida State.
2. Establish a paint presence: This seems to be self explanatory, but the 49ers have gotten into a bad habit of taking ill advised 3-pointers early in games instead of attacking the paint, especially against Rhode Island and Fordham. The Spiders are similar to Rhode Island with no post presence. This is a game that the 49ers need to establish Braswell, Clayton and Clark early and often. They'll want to wear down the Spiders big men. In their last eight games, the Spiders have been outscored in the paint by an average of 34.8-21.3. In their last two games, they've been outscored 76-36.
3. Run in transition: The Spiders play a sophisticated defense so the 49ers will want to take advantage of their opportunities on the fast break. They do not want to waste opportunities by letting the Spiders get their switching man-to-man defense set.
Tim's Closing Thought
This team is still learning how to close games out properly. The 49ers have had trouble extending late leads into double digits recently against Rhode Island and Fordham. They are looking to go for the "killshot" instead of just playing their game. They begin to play too fast for their own good. They attempt to go from playing at "light speed" to "ludicrous speed." They have to find that medium because they are having too many empty possessions late in games.
Even though the Spiders will not have Williams, this will still prove to be a difficult test for the 49ers. Major has never won at Richmond and the 49ers have always struggled with Mooney's teams. This is the game that the 49ers must get Braswell established down low. The 49ers want to play inside-out, not outside-in. If Braswell would relegate himself within the arc, he would help the 49ers offense immensely and could open things up on the outside for a guy like Ingram.
This is another game that the 49ers need to win. They've got a potentially huge contest against Xavier on Wednesday and they want to have the momentum going in. They need to stay true to their roots and pound the Spiders inside because that's where they've got a humongous advantage. They've got a chance to make a statement over the next two games and they must start by taking care of business on the road tonight.