By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay
The Charlotte 49ers continued their surprising early surge in the American Athletic Conference, knocking off the error-prone UTSA Roadrunners 66-58 Saturday night at the Convocation Center.
With the victory, the 49ers improved to 9-7 on the season and to 3-1 in the AAC. UTSA, coming off a strong performance Wednesday in a six-point overtime loss at Memphis, fell to 7-10 and 1-3.
Charlotte big men Igor Milicic Jr. and Dishon Jackson led the 49ers to their first road victory of the season. Milicic, a 6-foot-10 Croatia native, hit three 3-point shots and scored 19.
Jackson, a transfer from Washington State, had two blocked shots and seven of his 17 points in the second half.
Guard Jordan Ivy-Curry led the Roadrunners with 20 points.
Once again, the Roadrunners fell victim to a team that played a slower pace. On Dec. 21, the Army Black Knights trotted out a similar style and won 63-53 at UTSA. In four outings after the Army disappointment, UTSA averaged 92.5 points.
Asked if Charlotte maintaining its desired pace to the game was the difference, UTSA coach Steve Henson said, “We anticipated that. It’s hard to speed ’em up. We knew it would be a low possession game. Their offense affects that greatly, and then they’re pretty good defensively, too.
“We spent our time in practice trying to handle their splits, the Princeton elements of their offense. And we did a pretty good job of that for the most part. Didn’t give up any back doors. Handled most of their splits.”
On the other end of the floor, the Roadrunners were just too sloppy to win. They committed too many errors that were unforced, especially in the second half.
“The pace, we didn’t anticipate speeding them up much,” Henson said, “but I didn’t anticipate us turning the ball over 17 times. They don’t get out in the passing lanes. They’re not an aggressive team. They don’t trap much, and we were just throwing it all over the gym.”
The story of the game may have been the 49ers’ defense. While UTSA scored 101 points and hit 17 three-point baskets at Memphis, the Roadrunners never could get anything going against Charlotte.
UTSA shot 35 percent from the field and 20 percent on three pointers. The Roadrunners also committed way too many mistakes in a game that wasn’t played at an up-and-down pace.
Three-point shooting? Well, it was subpar, to say the least. Defended well on the perimeter for the most part, the Roadrunners made only five of 25 from the arc.
A key sequence in the second half unfolded when Charlotte center Jackson took it inside to score and was fouled. He knocked down a free throw for a 3-point play.
On the next possession, Charlotte rejected UTSA on a drive at the rim and turned it into three more points, with Daylen Berry running for a layup and drawing another foul.
He hit the freebie, giving the 49ers a 50-37 lead with 12:17 remaining. UTSA never got closer than seven the rest of the way.
Considering Charlotte was held without a field goal for the last eight minutes, it was remarkable that the home team couldn’t make it more interesting.
“We do defend pretty well,” first-year Charlotte coach Aaron Fearne said. “And I knew we really had to control the tempo of the game against this team. We knew we couldn’t let this team get out in transition … I was very proud we were able to do that.”
Charlotte 9-7, 3-1
UTSA 7-10, 1-3
UTSA at Tulsa, Wednesday, 7 p.m.
With the loss, UTSA fell to 0-2 at home in the American, with the setbacks coming to the UAB Blazers and now the Charlotte 49ers. The Roadrunners have lost three of their last four at home overall. UTSA is 5-4 at home on the season …
Roadrunners starters struggled as a unit against the 49ers. Big men Carlton Linguard Jr. and Trey Edmonds combined for five points and 1 of 8 shooting. Small forward Dre Fuller Jr. scored two points in 12 minutes. Christian Tucker, the AAC’s assist leader, was held to one assist while making five turnovers. Guard Isaiah Wyatt had seven points and five boards.
Milicic scored 11 and Jackson added 10 as the Charlotte 49ers built a 32-27 lead on the cold-shooting UTSA Roadrunners. The 49ers led by as many as 12 points late in the half.
Milicic nailed four-for-five from the field and Jackson four-for-four. Charlotte hit 12 of 26 from the field as a team for 46.2 percent. Meanwhile, the Roadrunners couldn’t get their offense untracked.
UTSA missed six of its first seven shots and finished the half 11 of 32 for 34.4 percent. Three players who came off the bench led the team in scoring.