For the first time in 14 years, Rice basketball has won multiple conference tournament games. On Wednesday, the Owls upset Marshall.
Rice basketball head coach Scott Pera cracked a smile and said all the right things following his first Conference USA Tournament win on Tuesday over Southern Miss. In the midst of debriefing the win and discussing its significance as a building block for the program, Pera gave a sneak peek of what the Owls had prepared for their encore.
Tasked with upsetting the heavily favored Marshall Thundering Herd, Pera was fairly bold. “I don’t think the Marshall can guard Max [Fiedler] on the block,” he said, catching himself with a measured, “but we’ll see.”
The emphasis on Fiedler was clear from the start. Rice was overtly focused on feeding their big man inside, so much so that tipped passes became turnovers. But the Owls settled down and Fiedler settled in, finishing with 15 points, nine rebounds and two assists. Pera chuckled post-game. “Every once in a while I get one right,” he mused.
That right call proved pivotal. Fiedler’s impact was felt the most at the onset of the second half. He made three consecutive shots from close range, turning a deadlocked game into a six-point Rice advantage.
“It’s a big difference for us in the last couple of years,” Pera said cheerily. “It’s different when it’s your 6-foot-10 guy who can pass like that too. Because teams can’t double him. We hope teams double him because we know we’re gonna get a wide-open shot.”
After that early burst, Fiedler’s scoring game way those shooters. Quincy Olivari has 23 points. Travis Evee, who only scored nine, contributed a crucial triple that helped extend what became an 11-2 Owls’ run.
Marshall hit their own flurry of threes down the stretch, but Rice hit their free throws to survive and advance. On Thursday they’ll play their third game in three days, something they never were asked to do in the regular season. Their depth will be tested, but Pera maintains they’re a ways from being out of gas.
“There is no thought in my mind besides tomorrow at six o’clock,” Pera said. “We will throw the kitchen sink, do whatever we need to do. We’ll play everybody, whatever we need to do. And if we’re fortunate enough to get by, we’ll figure it out from there.”
Pear held his cards a little closer to the vest this time around. How will the Owls attack the Blazers on Thursday? We’ll find out soon enough. One thing’s for certain, Rice won’t go down without a fight. Olivari said it best when recapping the win: “When everybody’s rolling, it’s hard to guard us.”
Rice basketball is scheduled to play UAB at 6:00 p.m. tomorrow on ESPN+.