POST GAME AUDIO
---->SAINT JOSEPH'S: Phil Martelli
The Charlotte 49ers fended off the Saint Joseph's Hawks 52-40 Saturday night to clinch a spot in the Atlantic 10 tournament.
Charlotte (20-10, 8-8) entered Halton Arena knowing full well that a win against Saint Joseph's (17-12, 8-8) was the only way to attend their conference tournament.
A strong defensive effort would be an understatement to describe the 49ers performance against the Hawks. Both teams struggled to score in the first half, at the midway break it was the Hawks with the 19-18 lead.
The biggest difference in the contest would be Charlotte's ability to produce points down the stretch. Hawk's Head Coach Phil Martelli was disgusted and at a loss of words in the press conference. "We just scored 40 points as a Division I team," Martelli said. "Both teams grinded it and the grind was hard to watch."
For 49ers Head Coach Alan Major, the grind was anything but hard to watch. "Even though it wasn't a pretty offensive game, we got back to defending the way we know how," Major said. "I thought that was the key to the game."
Charlotte improved in many ways coming out of the halftime break, being more efficient offensively, and continuing their defensive presence. It was a night-and-day comparison seeing the 49ers conscious efforts to avoid turnovers in the second half. They turned it over eleven times going into the locker room, which resulted in nine points for the Hawks. But in the latter 20 minutes the Hawks score-off-turnover opportunities were halted as Charlotte would only commit three more the entire game.
The true separation of the two teams occurred with 5:34 to play. After Ronald Roberts hit two free throws to cut the 49ers lead to 41-38 the Hawks wouldn't score again until Carl Jones hit two free throws with 25.4 seconds to play. The Hawks last made basket in the game came on a dunk from C.J. Aiken with 8:23 to play which tied the game at 36.
The 49ers held the Hawks to four points in the last 8:23 and made them completely inept on offense. Martelli reiterated his team's poor offensive outing with, "This will be really hard to get out of my head, what we just put out there."
In the same 5:34 to end the game, Charlotte extended their lead from 3 points to the eventual 12-point victory. In that time period Pierria Henry was accountable for five of the 49ers 11 points.
Henry led the team with 11 rebounds and scored 83 percent of his 12 points from the free throw line. Alongside Henry, collecting a bounty of defensive rebounds were Denzel Ingram (4 pts, 7 rebounds) and Darion Clark (6 pts, 7 rebounds).
The big men of Charlotte took over offensively in the second half. Chris Braswell opened-up for 10 points and 3 assists for his senior night performance. Willie Clayton had 12 points and 4 rebounds by the end of it all.
"I think [Clayton] does a nice job for a young kid, with the positioning of his feet," Martelli said about Clayton afterwards. "And [Charlotte's] deliveries to the post are to be emulated."
Roberts (8 pts, 8 rebounds 2 blks) and Langston Galloway (13 pts, 6 rebounds 2 stls) led the Hawks. Galloway, who was threatening Charlotte from everywhere on the court in the first, was almost a no-show in the second half.
Charlotte's senior night ended in dramatic fashion for Colby Lewis. With three seconds remaining Major, out of respect, subbed-in his seniors who rarely see game-time action. Henry inbounded the ball to Lewis, cross-court, to the back corner of the three-point line. With no more than two seconds left, the senior guard who sees an average of 4.2 minutes a game sunk his only, and the teams only (1-13), 3 points of the night, sending his mates into jubilation as the buzzer sounded.
"Behind closed doors nobody sees what that man does for this team," said Henry of Lewis.
This win puts the 49ers into the Atlantic 10 Tournament. It is unclear where their final finish will be but all signs indicate that they'll be the No. 9 seed in a possible matchup against the Richmond Spiders in the opening game of the tournament on Thursday at 12:00 p.m.
"We came out with energy, with something to prove," Ingram said. "The players were talking about it, we knew it was do-or-die, so we wanted to come out, get the win, and go to Brooklyn."