By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay
Playing a slow-down game in their home arena, the Charlotte 49ers emerged Thursday night with a 79-70 victory over UTSA, handing the Roadrunners their season-high fifth straight loss.
The surprising 49ers, who are nothing if not masters of a methodical pace, nearly led the game wire to wire.
The score was tied briefly at 10-10 early in the first half. But other than that, the 49ers kept the Roadrunners at arms length, and they won again to keep a promising season alive in front of the home fans at Halton Arena.
Center Dishon Jackson led the 49ers with 19 points.
Guard Lu’Cye Patterson had 17 and Nik Graves 12 as Charlotte won its second straight and remained in contention for the American Athletic Conference title. The 49ers played solid defense for most of the game, shot 48 percent from the field and marched to their 10th win in their last 11.
As a result, a log-jam remained at the top of the AAC standings, with South Florida leading the 14-team pack at 11-1, followed by Charlotte and 24th-ranked Florida Atlantic tied for second at 10-2. Not bad for a Charlotte team picked in the preseason poll to finish 13th.
For UTSA, the frustration continued.
The Roadrunners aren’t anywhere near the league leaders and haven’t won since Jan. 24, at home against Tulane. Since then, they have fallen, in succession, to South Florida, Rice, Wichita State, East Carolina and now Charlotte. Consequently, they’re tied for 12th place with Wichita State at 2-10, ahead of only the Temple Owls, who are 1-11.
UTSA had its moments against Charlotte. At the end of the first half, they rode the hot shooting of PJ Carter and whittled what had been a 13-point deficit to two at the break. But after intermission, UTSA went cold and stayed cold for the rest of the game, shooting a second-half field goal percentage of only 25.7 percent.
Carter emerged as the only legitimate scoring threat on the night with a career-high 22 points. Even then, the 49ers bottled him up after halftime, holding him to only three points the rest of the way. Christian Tucker had 13 and Dre Fuller Jr. 11. Both made some plays down the stretch, but they weren’t enough.
Jordan Ivy-Curry, UTSA’s leading scorer, couldn’t find a rhythm for the second time in his last three outings. He scored five points on 2 of 10 shooting, nearly matching his 1 for 10 effort from a few games ago against the Wichita State Shockers.
Ivy-Curry wasn’t alone in his struggles. Seven-foot center Carlton Linguard Jr. finished 2 for 9 and scored four points. Guard Adante’ Holiman shot 0 for 3 and went scoreless.
In the first game between the two this season, played at San Antonio, the 49ers won 66-58.
“We played better,” UTSA coach Steve Henson told Andy Everett on the school’s radio broadcast. “In the first half, to put up 44 on them is a pretty big accomplishment. They’re a really good defensive team. (With their) pace of play, that was a lot of points to put up.
“I thought like we looked like ourselves in the first half. Ball was moving pretty good. Beginning of the game, they had a pretty good flow going. We kept telling out guys, ‘Just hang in there.’ And all of a sudden, we felt like our guys turned it up defensively a little bit.”
Henson said even though UTSA didn’t shoot well in the second half, he felt good about his players’ competitive spirit to the final buzzer. “It was one of our better overall efforts in terms of intensity,” he said.
UTSA 8-17, 2-10
Charlotte 16-8, 10-2
UTSA at Temple, Sunday, 1 p.m.