Rice basketball split a hard-fought two-game set with UTEP, earning their most impressive road win of the season in the process.
It was a wild weekend in the desert for Rice basketball. The Owls were welcomed to El Paso by a garage of three-pointers in their opening game of the two-game set. UTEP hit five triples in the first five minutes of game one, screaming out to a 21-9 lead.
The Owls showed poise and maturity with their response. They battled back to take the lead, erasing a 12-point deficit in a matter of minutes with only one three-pointer to hastened the rally. The dogfight would continue into the second half before another Miners’ surge put things away.
UTEP came out hot again on Saturday, but this time the Rice comeback found staying power. Monster days from Travis Evee (21 points with five three-pointers) and Max Fiedler (19 points and 13 rebounds) propelled the Owls to victory.
Head coach Scott Pera was noticeably amped in the aftermath on Saturday. “That is a terrific basketball team that we just beat on their home floor,” he said, taking responsibility for gameplan decisions on Friday and lauding his team for responding well in the rematch.
The win gives Rice a split on the road, something head coach Scott Pera mentioned his team was aiming to achieve any time they left the confines of Tudor Fieldhouse this season. It was a physical, hard-fought victory, and one that Pera called a “statement” for the steadily rising Owls.
Player Spotlight | Max Fiedler
Fiedler began the season with three straight double-doubles, a strong start for the second year player. That would prove to be just the beginning for Fiedler who has been red hot from the field in the past five outings. Starting with a Dec. 21 game against New Orleans, here are Fiedler’s last five lines:
- New Orleans: 2-for-2, 7 points, 12 rebonds
- UTSA: 5-for-6, 12 points, 11 rebounds
- UTSA: 8-for-8, 18 points, 4 rebounds
- UTEP: 10-for-11, 22 points, 5 rebounds
- UTEP: 9-for-15, 19 points, 13 rebounds
Altogether, that’s 34-for-42 from the field (81 percent) and an average of 15.6 points and nine rebounds per game. Rice lacked an interior presence this commanding last season. Not only have Fiedler filled that void, he’s turned into an impact player for the Owls on both sides of the court.
Stat Corner | Dependable from deep
Rice basketball shoots a lot of threes, that’s nothing new, but their accuracy from downtown has been noticeably better. Rice made 30 percent or fewer of its three point shots in 13 of 32 games last season, a rate of 41 percent. The Owls have turned that statistic upside down this year, failing to reach a 30 percent success rate from three just once in 12 games.
The Owls made 11 of 25 threes on Friday (44 percent) and eight of 17 threes on Saturday (47 percent). If you’re going to live by the three, you’d best be good at it. And Rice is one of the best teams in Conference USA from three.
Rice returns home next weekend to face Conference USA East-leading Old Dominion. The Monarchs, like the Owls, are the only three-win team in their division. ODU split with FIU in their opening series before sweeping Florida Atlantic this past weekend.
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