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Charlotte bounces back, bests Blue Hose

Charlotte's Brice Williams (3) puts in a bucket over a Presbyterian defender. (Photo: Brian Wilmer/House of College Hoops)

CHARLOTTE – Following back-to-back setbacks after an undefeated start to the 2022-23 season, Charlotte looked to heal some wounds on the friendly deck of Halton Arena Saturday afternoon. The 49ers are – for now, at least – all patched up.

Charlotte held the nation’s 16th-leading offensive rebounding squad far below its average and placed three scorers in double figures, turning away Presbyterian, 69-42, before an announced crowd of 2,104.

“I’m thankful for the win,” Charlotte head coach Ron Sanchez said. “I think that we, coming off a loss, had to find a way to really bounce back and bounce back with energy. I think we did that today.”

Charlotte (5-2) overcame a slow start by both sides to claim a double-digit lead on an Aly Khalifa bucket at the 9:36 mark of the first half. Presbyterian (1-6) sliced the lead to single digits on a five-point mini-burst from guard Marquis Barnett with 5:52 to go in the first half. Charlotte again answered, closing the half on a 12-4 stretch to take a 32-17 lead to the interval. 49er guard Brice Williams set the tone for his club, pouring in 10 in 11 minutes off the bench.

The visiting Blue Hose fought off some of their struggles in the opening segments of the second half. Presbyterian knocked down 4-of-8 tries from distance – including two from freshman reserve guard Houston Jones – to slice the Charlotte lead to 14 with 8:29 to play. Charlotte opened up another run from there, inciting an 8-0 charge that resulted in a stoppage by the Blue Hose with a 22-point deficit. Another Jones triple would draw Presbyterian back under 20, but an Igor Milicic triple on the other end quickly put the lead back over 20 points to stay.

“Some of the opportunities they got were self-inflicted,” Sanchez said. “They scored in transition off turnovers. They scored in transition off a missed layup. Those are kind of hard things to recover from. We’ve just gotta do our part to make sure that we execute better, finish plays, and take care of the basketball.”

Presbyterian came into the game averaging nearly 15 offensive rebounds per contest. The Blue Hose were a top-20 club in grabbing offensive caroms but were held to just three offensive boards by Charlotte Saturday afternoon. Just one of those offensive boards was grabbed in the second half as PC made its run.

Jones, a reserve guard who had not appeared for more than two minutes in a game against a Division 1 opponent, tied for the lead among Presbyterian scorers. The 6-foot-4 freshman from Lexington, S.C., played nearly 16 minutes and tallied 10 points on 3-for-5 shooting. Jones’ three buckets all came from distance, providing a bit of a spark during Presbyterian’s second-half charge. Barnett equaled Jones’ 10 on 4-for-8 shooting.

Presbyterian shot 36.6 percent (15-for-41) on the game. The Blue Hose shot 44.4 percent from three (8-for-18) and the free throw line (4-for-9) for the contest.

The redshirt junior guard Williams paced the Niners, contributing 14 points in 18 minutes off the bench. The native of nearby Huntersville, N.C., knocked down 5-of-9 from the floor and 3-of-3 from the line, earning praise from his head coach.

“I think it’s a luxury when you have a guy who can come off the bench and put the ball in the basket,” said Sanchez of Williams. “It allows your offensive play not to drop when you go to your bench. There are times when Brice is playing starter’s minutes. To have a guy that can come off the bench and help you establish a rhythm, that can hit a couple of threes and make some tough shots and is really good from the free throw line, I think it’s definitely a luxury to have.

“Brice has embraced the role and he’s doing an awesome job,” Sanchez added. “He’s really helping this team be very successful at the moment. Will it change in the future? I don’t know. Right now, it’s working. I think as a group all they want to do is win.”

Milicic joined with Khalifa to tally 13 apiece. Khalifa grabbed 11 boards in completing a double-double, while Milicic added six boards and five baskets in nine attempts from the floor. Charlotte sank 48.2 percent (27-for-56) of its field goal tries, with 10 of those (40 percent) falling in 25 attempts from distance. The 49ers hit five of their six free throw attempts (83.3 percent).

Both sides are off until Tuesday. Presbyterian hosts VMI at the Templeton Center in Clinton, S.C., for a 7:00 (Eastern) tip. Charlotte travels to local rival Davidson’s Belk Arena for the latest installment of the Battle for the Hornets’ Nest. That tilt is also slated for a first jump at 7:00. Both games will be streamed over ESPN+.


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