CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Charlotte turned up the defensive intensity and aggressiveness midway through the first half and never looked back in picking up a convincing, 80-59, triumph over Old Dominion Wednesday night in the Conference USA opener for both programs. The win, carried live on ESPN 730AM, featured one of the more-complete team efforts from the Niners all season.
While senior Ny Hammonds led all players in scoring with 18 points, including a 12-of-15 performance at the foul line, freshman Lefty Webster was the one that filled the stat sheet more fully. She tallied a career-best 13 points, including knocking down both of her 3-pointers and 5-of-6 free throws, to go along with four steals, three rebounds and three assists in just 22 minutes.
Sophomore Kira Gordon joined them in double-figure scoring with 17 on 7-of-9 field goals, helping Charlotte (7-7, 1-0 C-USA) shot 42.1 percent from the floor. The 49ers added 28-of-40 at the charity stripe, reaching new season bests in both categories, and grabbed 50 rebounds, one short of the season high established against UCF Nov. 23.
The Niners registered 17 assists on 24 made field goals, swatted four blocks and swiped eight steals to pick up their second-straight win.
Meanwhile, Old Dominion (7-8, 0-1 C-USA) was led by 14 points from Stephanie Gardner, including 7-of-8 at the foul line. She was the Lady Monarchs’ lone threat at the stripe, as they finished 17-of-33 (51.5 percent) as a team.
Shae Kelley, a Conference USA Preseason Player to Watch who came into the contest averaging a double-double of 16.4 points and 10.7 rebounds and posting nine double-doubles on the campaign, was held to 12 points and eight boards with much of both coming late in the contest when the game was already decided.
Neither team was able to gain much traction early, as fouls prevented either side from gaining momentum. Overall, a combined 58 fouls were called on the two squads during the course of the 40 minutes.
There were four ties in the opening six minutes, as the teams traded baskets and Kelley forced the final deadlock at 9-9 with 14:09 to play on a layup. Becca Allison then put ODU on top two-and-a-half minutes later, but it would be a short-lived advantage for the visitors.
By the 10:04 mark, when freshman Ciara Gregory drained a quick-release 3-pointer, Charlotte regained control with its 13-11 edge and never looked back. Her triple ignited a 10-2 run in just over two minutes, as the 49ers were able to widen their margin to seven, 20-13, with a jumper from junior Hillary Sigmon.
Old Dominion clawed back, mounting a 6-1 spurt in the next two minutes, capping it with a Gardner triple following a Destinee Young steal, to pull within two, 21-19, at the 6:01 mark. Charlotte again reversed course, extending its lead back to five, 26-21, on a pair of Hammonds free throws entering the final media timeout at 3:53.
Coming out of the break, the Niners continued to find the bottom of the hoop with ease, as Sigmon drained a triple before Webster added one of her own, pushing the lead to double figures for the first time at 11, 32-21, with 2:38 left. Webster then grabbed the defensive rebound on the ensuing Lady Monarchs possession, drawing a foul and adding two free throws to make it a 13-point difference, 34-21.
Due to some foul trouble, and with bench players inserted into the lineup, it was freshman Meme Garner who knocked down a pair of free throws to make it a 14-point contest, 36-22, with 46 seconds remaining. The halftime margin would remain the same when fellow rookie Kenya Olley hit a baseline eight-footer before the horn, lifting Charlotte to a 38-24 edge entering the intermission.
Layups by Gordon and Tyler extended the lead to 18, 42-24, in the early stages of the second period, and by the time four minutes had passed, the 49ers garnered their first 20-point advantage, 45-25, thanks to another Gordon layup.
A 5-0 ODU run during the next two minutes trimmed the gap to 15, 45-30, but Charlotte then exploded with a 15-0 stretch in the next four-and-a-half minutes to take a 60-30 lead. Hammonds opened the surge with the first four points before finishing with six in the run, while Gordon chipped in four, Webster added another trey and Tyler closed it with a layup at 9:45.
Over the next six minutes, with the 49ers substituting in bench players, the Lady Monarchs were able to slice the deficit to 19, 71-52, at 3:30 on a Kelley layup. She tallied nine of her team’s points in an attempt to rally her squad. However, Charlotte would not let Old Dominion get any closer and would push its advantage back to as much as 23, 77-54, when Gregory went to the rim for a layup with 1:49 to go.
In addition to Webster’s career-high scoring output, Garner also added a career best with her four points.
The 49ers will return to action at 7 p.m. Saturday when they play host to North Texas, another Conference USA newcomer, to close a four-game homestand. The Mean Green opened their league slate with an 86-42 setback at preseason favorite Middle Tennessee Wednesday night to fall to 6-8 overall.
Charlotte Postgame Quotes
Head Coach Cara Consuegra
What a great win for us to start off Conference USA off on the right foot. I thought this was our most complete and best game from both an offensive and defensive standpoint. We have to talk about defense because we had not thought that we have been the team that we needed to be defensively, but I thought that changed tonight. Our team had a different pep in their step. They followed the game plan tremendously and we were able to frustrate Old Dominion. We were able to make things difficult for them, and that was a direct correlation to our players doing exactly what we asked of them and following through with the execution. It was incredible to force them into 19 turnovers and to then make 25 points off those turnovers. Offensively, I think we did a great job moving the ball. We got a team that came in playing a zone and we had to get them out of it. We did a great moving the ball and that is a great improvement against a zone. That is huge improvement for our team. That has been something that we have struggled with, and now, we are better. Finally, the first half became a battle of the benches. Our bench was incredible. We had players who were prepared, they were ready, and that is something that we talk about all the time. Our players have to be ready when their number is called, and tonight they were, so that made a huge difference in the game. I’m very proud of them and I’m excited to move forward and that this is the team that we need to be.
On the team’s confidence
First we have to talk about Lefty. She had an incredible effort off the bench and led our energy. Offensively, she was great, but defensively, she was flying around, creating deflections and playing the game plan correctly as a freshman is huge. Our energy just really grew from there. Like I said before, we have challenged our players to stay ready and that can be tough for the young players that we have on the bench. This is why we do that, we needed them and they stay ready on the bench even when their number isn’t called, so the credit goes to them. And this gives us confidence going forward because I want to be able to play more players so that we can keep our defense intensity at a higher level and they are showing me that I am able to do that.
On the team’s change in attitude over the course of the season
I think we are coming together. All season we have talked about how we are young and we don’t have chemistry, etc. That takes time to develop and I think you are starting to see us understand each other not just as players, but also as people. And you are starting to see them putting the team over themselves. Tonight was all about the team. Nobody was focused on their stats or minutes, it was about us winning our first game back in Conference USA. That meant a lot to us and you could see everybody come together in that. We are sisters, and we have to love each other as sisters, and you saw that tonight.
On Ny Hammonds’ performance tonight
She has to be consistent for us to win and she knows that. That is the pressure on her shoulders and she knows that. I told her that this is the ‘attacking Ny’ that we need. She did an incredible job. She is always that great in man. The zone has slowed her down and we have been trying to teach her to keep that same pace and the same attacking mentality. She did that tonight. Her energy was high, which meant our energy was high, and when she is like that, we are going to win a lot of games.
On recent changes to team’s mindset
I think that the team just needed to feel a little looser. Our non-conference was up and down, and we were coming in with high expectations after a great season, so that pressure was building. It caused us to be tight and not having fun, so I tried to adjust some things. We have changed practice to be more competitive and fun. Now it’s a lot more playing rather than drilling and incorporating music into practice. It has made a big difference. We’ve practiced better; we have players who are playing better. We’ve only gone two games in a row, so we still have work to do, but you can see that the feel around us is much different.
Sophomore Kira Gordon
On the bench’s energy throughout the game
Like coach said, our bench energy wasn’t very good previously, so we decided as a team to come together and support each other and it has become fun. We are more pumped. We have a fresh start because it is conference play now.
On what has changed around the team lately
We are coming together. Practice is flowing well now. There were a lot of new faces in the beginning of the year and we didn’t know each other’s game well. Over time, we were able to develop as a team and work together more.
On music selections in practice
Each player got to pick three songs that they wanted to play. I didn’t pick any.
Freshman Lefty Webster
On being a contributor as a freshman
It’s a challenge, but I trust my coaches, and I know that they believe in me so that gives me more to go on. I feel ok with doing whatever they asked. In the beginning, I didn’t want to mess up because last year they were such a strong team, but now, I know that I can trust them.
On what having a complete game like tonight does for confidence
It boosts it really high. I won’t get over-cocky but I won’t overthink things. Before, I would constantly think about what I was doing because I was so focused on not messing up, but now I have greater confidence, so I don’t have to.
On changes in practice
It’s a lot more fun. It was kind of uptight and more serious, but now it feels loose because we have the music. It’s our music, it’s not their music.