Spears leads Charlotte past Elon
By Bret Strelow
DURHAM ó Playing in a real game for the first time in 20 months, Shamari Spears enjoyed the second successful debut of his collegiate career.
Spears, a former Salisbury star, tied his career high of 23 points in Charlotte’s 75-61 win against Elon in an NIT Season Tip-Off game at Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium on Monday.
Spears also had 23 points against New Hampshire in his first game as a Boston College freshman in 2006. He played two years with the Eagles, sat out last season as a transfer and was suspended for Charlotte’s opener against UNC Asheville for breaking team rules.
“It feels good to get back out here and do something I love,” Spears said. “Any time I can be a big part of helping my team win, I’m all for it.”
Freshman forward K.J. Sherrill, a West Rowan alum, contributed five points, two rebounds and two emphatic blocks in seven first-half minutes for the 49ers, who will face ninth-ranked Duke tonight at 6 p.m.
Sherrill previously had played AAU games in Cameron, and Spears was making his third collegiate appearance there. He scored 12 points during a 75-61 loss to Duke as a BC freshman and had 10 points the next year in a 90-80 victory by the Blue Devils.
The 6-foot-6 Spears used his strength to back down taller Elon players and obtain favorable post position. He made several turnaround, fadeaway jumpers and also was effective attacking the basket.
“I always try to play physical and play hard,” Spears said. “I am undersized, so I always go into the game with kind of a chip on my shoulder, feeling I have to outwork the next man or whoever is guarding me.”
Spears converted a three-point play three minutes after the opening tip and totaled seven points before sitting out the final 12:42 of the half with two fouls.
Spears posted eight points in the first five minutes of the second half and finished 10-for-17 from the field. He had six rebounds.
“It wasn’t like he was going one-on-one,” Charlotte coach Bobby Lutz said. “They double-teamed him almost every time; he just scored the ball anyway. We haven’t had a lot of guys that can do that. That’s why we’ve always shot a million 3s.”
Sherrill, who entered the lineup for the first time as Spears departed with his second foul, rejected shots by guard Devan Carter and 6-foot-9 forward Adam Constantine in the first half.
Sherrill performed well three days after committing four fouls and going scoreless in his Charlotte debut.
“I felt comfortable tonight,” Sherrill said. “The boys talked to me and told me what to do. The coaches, they were talking to me, telling me I needed to calm down and play my game. That’s what I did.”
Sherrill scratched for the first time by making two free throws in a one-and-one situation with 8:17 remaining in the first half.
A memorable first field goal came six minutes later. Running down the left sideline, he caught an alley-oop pass from Dijuan Harris and dunked with two hands.
“I’ve been wanting one for the longest time, and I finally got it,” Sherrill said.
Sherrill didn’t play after intermission, with the majority of frontcourt minutes going to Spears and center Phil Jones.
“I should have played him in the second half,” Lutz said. “He had great minutes in the first half. Just the flow of the game, and Shamari only played six (minutes in the first half), and I really wanted him and Phil’s presence on the defensive end.”