By Robbie Lastella
AAC conference play is not going to be easy, and the Owls found out the hard way tonight. The Charlotte 49ers defended home court and upset #17 FAU 70-68.
“I’m just super excited for the guys. For the school, for the program. To get a top 25 win is massive and it’s been a work in progress since we took the program over 6 years ago. We talked to the guys at halftime and said they’re gonna throw some major haymakers and punches at us, and they did that. We wobbled there for a long time, but we got the final knockout in at the right time,” Charlotte Coach Aaron Fearne said after the game.
The story in this one for FAU, was once again a slow start. The Owls started this one out 0/8 from the field and it allowed for Charlotte to jump out to an early 9-0 lead. Playing from behind is something that has plagued FAU early on in games this season, and after the game Coach Dusty May spoke on the issue.
“It’s becoming a theme where we’re just not on our toes, we’re not the aggressor early in the game and then we have to fight back… I’m not sure what’s caused it, but we’re looking at everything. We’re always trying to look inward and see what we can do differently and better. We may tinker with the lineup a bit to try to get better combinations on the floor, but we just haven’t gotten off to a very good start several games this season, especially on the road,” Coach May said.
Trailing 19-4 with 11:34 to go in the first half, the Owls offense got going a little bit as Johnell Davis, Vlad Goldin and Brandon Weatherspoon hit their first baskets of the night and cut the lead to single digits with 8:27 to play.
Charlotte was ready to respond to any FAU runs tonight and they did just that following the Owls run in the first half. In a 3-minute stretch led by Lu’Cye Patterson, the 49ers jolted the lead back to 15, and snatched away any momentum the Owls had. Charlotte was responding to FAU, not only on the offensive end but also on the defensive end. Coach Fearne credits his guys defense for the Owls offensive struggles and not a cold stretch for FAU.
“We can defend. I thought we were very physical to start. I think you credit our defense; we did that the other night at SMU we can defend people there’s no doubt about that, we can get down and guard people and we’re gonna need to continue to do it,” Coach Fearne said.
The 49ers carried a 15-point lead into the break and were riding high with momentum meanwhile, FAU was trailing by more than they had all season. The Owls weren’t going to accept defeat, and both teams knew a battle would be on tap for the second half.
The second half started out a bit back and forth, before the Owls went on one of their signature second half runs. Coming out of the 16-minute break, the Owls started out with 3 made free throws from Johnell Davis and initiated a full court press. From there the Owls took off, and in about 6 minutes the lead was cut to 5. Nick Boyd played a huge role during this run and finished with a season high 19, after the game Coach May spoke on the play of Boyd.
“He did a nice job of getting to the rim and finishing, he had a great competitive spirit, and it was nice to have back competing with his guys,” Coach May said.
Boyd and Nelly lead the way offensively down the stretch for FAU and with 6:29 to go Nick Boyd hit an and-1 basket and the game was tied. Charlotte was quick to respond once again and quickly went up 4, before the Owls traded blows with them once again.
The Owls and 49ers traded buckets down the stretch, and Dale F Halton arena was rocking. Johnell Davis hit a pull-up 3 pointer with 13 seconds left to tie the game at 68 and set up Charlotte for one last shot. Lu’Cye Patterson hit a go-ahead 3 pointer with 20 seconds left, before Davis tied it and everyone knew the ball was going to be in his hands for the final possession. After the game he spoke on how he stepped up into a leadership role for tonight’s game despite getting hurt late in the second half.
“One of our leaders was out, Jackson so I know everyone was looking to me for leadership today. I know this game I wasn’t sitting out no matter what happened to me,” Patterson said.
Patterson did get the ball in his hands for that final possession, and he drew a foul on a mid-range jump shot. He hit both free throws, and the Owls had a great look with only 1 second left, but it fell short, and the 49ers won the game, and the fans rushed the court. After the game, Coach May spoke on the defensive setup for that possession.
“We felt like it was going to him, and we wanted to force a tough shot. He took a snake dribble at about 18-19 feet. Obviously, Greenlee didn’t intend to foul him, but we thought we had him taking the shot we wanted but it didn’t work out for us,” Coach May said.
A tough loss for the Owls, one they fought hard to come back in, but the big deficit early was too much to overcome this time. FAU has another road matchup ahead on Thursday against Tulane. Now 0-2 on the road this year, FAU will have only a few days to right the ship and Coach May thinks the team will have to go into this one with a chip on their shoulder.
“We’ve got to go on the road with a chip on our shoulder. When you look at the games we have lost, we haven’t shot well. Tonight, we did from the free throw line, but we haven’t shot well from the perimeter. I thought we did a nice job of getting to the rim and finishing tonight. We’re just not defending and rebounding the way we need to and the shots aren’t dropping. We’ve got to get back to finding a way to being the hunter as opposed to the hunted,” Coach May said.
The Owls have been hunted so far this season, getting every team’s best performance night in and night out. Making adjustments is one of the staff’s strongest abilities and look for some serious ones before Thursday’s game against Tulane.