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Back To Basketball: Miners and 49ers Open C-USA Play

Conference USA basketball starts its 2014 schedule as UTEP and Charlotte meet tonight 7 PM in the Haskins Center.

Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports

After almost a decade long hiatus, the Charlotte 49ers return to C-USA after a tour in the Atlantic 10, opening up the next era of their C-USA legacy Thursday night against the Miners.

Charlotte was a seven time NCAA tourney representative of the conference in its ten years of previous service from 1995-2005.

The 2013-14 version of the 49ers look to compete in the top-5 all season long with some very strong front line players.

Pierria Henry leads the conference in steals per game, and can really do it all from the point guard spot, he is also one of the best defenders in college basketball with the ability to guard multiple spots.

Henry is coming off a 23 point, 7 rebound, 7 assist effort in their last win versus in-state rival North Carolina A&T.

Forward Willie Clayton has had double figure scoring numbers in 12 straight games, also leading the C-USA in double-doubles with seven, the double-double mark ranks good for 11th nationally.

Clayton is an absolute monster on the offensive boards, averaging five offensive rebounds a game, leading the 49ers to out rebound their opponents on the offensive glass 27 times in his 46 game career.

You cannot forget about the lethal shooting from Tulane transfer Ben Cherry, and Shawn Lester is a very talented scorer of the bench, pouring in 20 or more points on two occasions this season of Alan Major's pine.

Charlotte really attacks the basket on offense, drawing lots of fouls, Charlotte's low on the season for free throws attempted is 13 which came in that huge win against Michigan.

The attacking the rim and paint emphasis has led the 49ers to shoot 60 percent from the field twice this year in the non-conference slate, while they have also outscored their opponents in 34 of their last 46 games inside the paint.

After more than a week layoff from their last regular season game, amid the scandal, and roster moves its finally time for UTEP return to basketball.

There is no question the loss of McKenzie Moore will hurt in the ball handling and scoring department.

For what its worth UTEP is 7-1 all time in C-USA openers, and 51-12 at home against C-USA opponents with 21-6 mark at home under Tim Floyd.

UTEP has hung its hard hat on tough defense, with an emphasis on owing the boards which has lead to five straight wins and a 10-5 record.

The Miners have improved their overall rebounding margin in the past seven games, boasting a +7.3 rebounding margin during that span, out rebounding six of their last seven opponents.

The Miners enter tonight's game ranked 9th in the nation in field goal percentage defense, and 28th in 3-point percentage on the defensive end.

Julian Washburn has paced the Miners in scoring during this five game winning streak, Washburn is averaging 14 points a game, while shooting 45 percent from the field in that same stretch, I would expect him to glue Henry on D.

Interesting to see what lineup coach Floyd will come out with for this game, UTEP has had 11 different starting lineups this year, add in the dismissals which makes trying to figure out the UTEP rotation a complete enigma.

Vince Hunter will see an increased role with the lack of depth now, Hunter has really improved every faucet of his game since the start of the season.

The Motor City Motor has scored in double figures in four out of the last six games, while grabbing eight or more rebounds in five out of the last six contests.

The roster moves also should bump Cedrick Lang back to the starting lineup as well.

Ced was huge for the Miners in their last two wins, and even more efficient on the offensive end during the five game winning streak.

Lang has shot 14 out of 17 from the field in the Miners last five wins, all coming off the bench, with most coming at the rim, recording three double-doubles in the process of those Miner W's.

It is imperative that C.J. Cooper gets going from behind the 3-point arc.

Cooper has struggled with his shot since the Orange and White Scrimmage, though that clutch shot that lifted UTEP past Denver in double overtime could be start of something as it usually does when shooters make huge shots like those.

I would expect the Miner faithful to show and support this team through the troubling times, and with the addition of local El Paso athletes, and UTEP football members Aaron and Alvin Jones, that should fill up some seats as well.

UTEP Miners

Current Record: 10-5, 0-0 C-USA

Key Players:

Julian Washburn, 11.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg

Vince Hunter, 10.5 ppg, 6.7 rpg

John Bohannon, 9.9 ppg, 8.1 rpg

Team Stats

Points Per Game 70.1
Opponents 60.5
FG% .449
Opponents% .375
3-point% .324
Opponents% .289
Free Throw% .689
Rebounds Per Game 37.4
Rebounding Margin +0.9
Assists Per Game 13.5
Steals Per Game 5.0

Charlotte 49ers

Current Record: 9-4, 0-0 C-USA

Head Coach: Alan Major

Key Players:

Pierria Henry, Jr, G, 11.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 5.6 apg

Willie Clayton, So, F, 12.0 ppg, 9.5 rpg

Shawn Lester, So, G, 13.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg

Team Stats

Points Per Game 75.4
Opponents 72.3
FG% .446
Opponents% .424
3-point% .371
Opponents% .317
Free Throw% .690
Rebounds Per Game 39.5
Rebounding Margin +4.2
Assists Per Game 12.0
Steals Per Game 6.5

Game Info:

Charlotte 49ers at UTEP Miners

Today, 7:05 PM MDT, Don Haskins Center, El Paso, TX

TV: CBS Sports Network

Make sure to stay tuned to MinerRush for more information on all things UTEP sports, and make sure to Follow @sbnminerrush on Twitter for live updates throughout the game from the Haskins Center.