Charlotte will have a long break between the final game of a difficult nonconference slate, an 88-72 loss to Maryland on Tuesday, and its Conference USA opener. The 49ers (6-5) will not play again until they host North Texas to open conference play on Dec. 31.The trip to Maryland ended a four-game stretch against power conference opponents, with Charlotte knocking off Oregon State before falling to Wake Forest, Florida and the Terrapins.With guard Jon Davis leading the way, the 49ers appeared poised to knock off Melo Trimble-led Maryland in the early going. They led by 10 with 5:47 remaining in the first half before the lead was trimmed to 37-36 at halftime. It was an impressive start for a team coming off an 87-46 drubbing at the hands of the Gators on Saturday. The Terrapins pulled away late thanks to 10 second-half 3-pointers, but had a much harder time with the 49ers than the final score would indicate. Davis, easily his team’s leading scorer at 19.9 points per game, finished with 28 to tie his season-high. The only loss of the year for Maryland (12-1) was to Pittsburgh. With its toughest games of the season likely behind it the 49ers also took on a Davidson team that challenged both North Carolina and Kansas Charlotte is now looking to a build on a 9-9 finish in C-USA a year ago. Each of its next three games are against teams that finished behind the 49ers in the standings last season. Below is a closer look at the first five conference games for a club picked to finish eighth out of 14 teams in C-USA.North Texas (home, Dec. 31)’15-16 record: (12-20, 7-11 C-USA)Preseason pick in C-USA coaches’ poll: 10th The Mean Green (6-5) have one more nonconference game a home contest against San Diego before traveling to Charlotte. North Texas has taken on just two teams from major conferences — Texas Tech and Rutgers losing to both by double-digits. UNT split two games with the 49ers in 2015-16.Rice (home, Jan. 2)’15-16 record: (12-20, 7-11 C-USA)Preseason pick in C-USA coaches’ poll: 9th The Owls (10-3) have fallen by three points or fewer in two of their three losses this year. Their losses are to Texas Tech (85-84), Texas Southern (71-68) and Pittsburgh (83-73). A year ago, Rice was swept by the 49ers, losing 102-73 and 88-75 in the regular season and 79-69 in the conference tournament.Western Kentucky (away, Jan. 5)’15-16 record: (18-16, 8-10 C-USA)Preseason pick in C-USA coaches’ poll: 3rdWKU is just 5-7. After winning 18 games last year, the Hilltoppers are off to a tough start, with losses to Washington, UNLV, Missouri and No. 19 Saint Mary’s. Western Kentucky and Charlotte split their two matchups a year ago. Marshall (away, Jan. 7)’15-16 record: (17-16, 12-6 C-USA)Preseason pick in C-USA coaches’ poll: 4thThe Thundering Herd are 7-4 and will wrap up their nonconference schedule with games against No. 24 Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. Marshall won one of two against the 49ers last year.Louisiana Tech (home, Jan. 12): ’15-16 record: (23-10, 12-6 C-USA)Preseason pick in C-USA coaches’ poll: 7thThe Bulldogs (7-5) have faced a trio of teams from major conferences, including No. 22 South Carolina in the season opener. La. Tech lost that game 85-76, and has since taken on Nebraska and California. Bulldogs coach Eric Konkol’s team took Cal to overtime, but couldn’t overcome 25 points from Ivan Rabb, who helped the Golden Bears win 68-59. Charlotte lost 93-90 in overtime in its only game against the Bulldogs in 2015-16.
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