On a night when the threes weren’t falling, Rice Basketball slammed the paint and overwhelmed Charlotte to advance in the Conference USA Tournament.
It became apparent very quickly the second-round game between Rice basketball and Charlotte wouldn’t be following the Owls’ conventional script. Rice started 0-for-6 from three but adjusted with quick feeds to Max Fiedler and attacking drives from their guards. Rice scored their first 12 points from the paint or the free throw line, rigorously working outside in and finding success.
Rather than steer away from what was working, Rice leaned into it. The Owls would make 3-of-6 threes to end the first half, but the bulk of their attempts came inside. It was Myljael Poteat who led the way in scoring for Rice in the first half, outscoring all of the Owls’ usual outside shooters and Fiedler. Altogether, the Rice interior attack allowed the Owls to control the pace of the game.
Last Time Out: Rice Basketball fades down stretch, falls to UTSA
With Travis Evee struggling from the field (0-for-6), Rice kept the ball in the hands of Carl Pierre on drives to the lane (16 points) and their duo of big men, Fiedler and Poteat throughout the second half. Spurts of 5-point, 6-point and 7-point runs were able to outpace the Charlotte offense, which struggled.
“I can’t say it enough,” Pierre said after the game. “I’m really proud of our execution. We came out, we played hard and got the dub.”
The Rice defense held Charlotte to 34.8 percent shooting from the field, one of their better showings of the season when they needed it most.
When asked to envision a scenario in which the Owls won a Conference USA Tournament game by double-digits despite one three combined from Pierre, Evee and the (now injured) Quincy Olivari, Pera’s answer was immediate: “You’re crazy.”
But that’s exactly what the Owls were able to accomplish.
Charlotte’s final push came at the 8-minute mark. The 49ers cut the Owls’ lead to eight, but that’s the last time the game would be within double-digits. A three from Riley Abercrombie and subsequent baskets from Terrance McBridge extended the Rice lead to 15, allowing the Owls to coast to the victory.
“We rely on those guys so much. Obviously, and they’ve been so good for us all year long,” Pera said of Pierre, Evee and Olivari. “But you’ve got to learn to win in other ways, especially in March.” They certainly did that in this one.
Player Spotlight | Max Fiedler
Sometimes lost in the shuffle of the Owls’ three-point barrage, Fiedler was the glue for Rice on both ends of the court tonight. He tied for the team lead with eight rebounds and had 12 points, converting on 5-of-7 shots from the field. As if that wasn’t enough, he also had a team-high six assists. “That’s when he’s at his best,” Pera remarked, “really making those great passes.”
In many ways, Fiedler displayed the kind of veteran moxie teams need to make runs in March. Without him, Rice doesn’t win this game.
Stat Corner | Twos count too
Rice basketball went 4-of-18 from three on Wednesday night, normally a line that would have doomed this team to an early exit from the conference tournament, especially with Evee and Pierre combining for one successful three following their record-setting season as a three-point duo.
The Owls were able to overcome that because of their proficiency from close range. Rice made 23-of-35 two-point shot attempts (65.7 percent). They were making just about everything from inside and they kept shooting them. When it’s not broken, don’t fix it.
Final Box | Rice 73 – Charlotte 61
FINAL | @RiceMBB 73 – Charlotte 61
— The Roost (@AtTheRoost) March 10, 2022
Up Next | Full Schedule
Officially moving on, Rice basketball draws North Texas, the No. 1 seed in the West in the next round. The Owls and Mean Green squared off twice in the regular season, the Owls lost both by wide margins. Both games came after shocks to the Rice lineup. The first contest was the first game back from a multi-week COVID-induced break. The next came shortly after Quincy Olivari’s season-ending injury.