Rice Basketball fell behind quickly but battled back to turn a lopsided affair into a one-possession game before narrowly falling to UTEP at home.
From the moment UTEP’s Jamal Bieniemy drained a three-pointer to open the scoring, Rice basketball was in catch-up mode at home. The Owls would take a brief 4-3 only to watch it evaporate with a 17-2 run by the Miners. That effectively set the script for the afternoon. If Rice wanted to notch their third consecutive conference victory they would have to claw their way back.
No sooner than Rice had seen their deficit reach double digits, the rally began. Rice answered. Trailing 20-9, Rice tightened up on defense and answered UTEP’s big run with a 14-2 run of their own. All of a sudden, the game was on. It wasn’t until Quincy Olivari’s final shot of the first half, a deep three, that Rice would once again take the lead, entering halftime up 30-28 at Tudor Fieldhouse.
Last Time Out: Rice Basketball closes strong, tops UTSA at home
The two squads traded shots and scores throughout the early portions of the second half. Neither side was able to take a meaningful lead until Quincy Olivari left the game following a hard foul as he went towards the basket. While Olivari was being attended to in the locker room, UTEP started a run courtesy of four triples from Bieniemy in the final 11 minutes of regulation, propelling him to a career-high in scoring.
Rice was able to trim an 11-point deficit down two, but ran out of time as the clock struck zero on a buzzer-beating layup from Carl Pierre. With the loss, Rice basketball falls to 13-9 on the season and 6-5 in conference play.
Player Spotlight | Max Fiedler
It has been an extremely quiet winter for center Max Fiedler. Once a fixture on the floor, improved play from Mylyjael Poteat had dropped Fiedler’s minutes from the mid 30’s to the low 20’s. His scoring fell off too. Fiedler hit double-digits in the scoring column just once between the Owls’ Dec. 11 tilt against Houston Baptist and a 14-point outing against Louisiana Tech on Jan. 27.
Fiedler appears to have gotten back into the groove ever since. He had 22 points at home against UTSA on Thursday before scoring 12 points on Saturday against UTEP. He also had eight rebounds. Rice basketball is better when Fiedler is on his game. Hopefully, this is a sign of things to come.
Stat Corner | 14
Maturity is hard to quantify in a box score, but it can be seen when you look a bit closer than the standard points, rebounds and assists. Rice basketball trailed by as many as 14 points in the first half. And then they didn’t. The growth and poise exhibited by this team cannot simply be boiled down to 14 points, but that margin (and the vigor with which the Owls erased it) does speak volumes about this team.
In previous seasons, a 10-point deficit felt overwhelming. Now Rice can weather the storm, keep shooting and play staunch enough defense to pull themselves back in just about any contest. Bieniemy’s three-point onslaught proved too much to overcome in the final minutes, but the Owls were in this game. There are no moral victories. A loss is a loss. But Rice didn’t lose this because they were outmatched. This team can hang with anyone.
Final Box | UTEP 72 – Rice 70
— The Roost (@AtTheRoost) February 5, 2022
Up Next | Full Schedule
Originally scheduled to play North American next week, Rice basketball will instead host Jarvis Christian on Tuesday, Feb. 8. They’ll finish their four-game homestand the following Saturday, Feb. 12 against North Texas.
Subscribe on Patreon for exclusive Rice football recruiting updates, practice notes and more.