Rice basketball is moving on in the Conference USA Tournament, surviving a waved-off buzzer-beater to advance past UTSA.
Slow starts had been the painfully recurring theme for Rice basketball in their recent cold spell, but that streak did not continue into the first round of the Conference USA Tournament. Rice opened up their game against UTSA on an 8-0 run, pushing the pace and taking control of the matchup with the league’s bottom seed early.
Rice continued to shoot well throughout the game, but it was the Owls’ defense that helped the hold their early advantage. A block at the halftime buzzer sent them into the break with a nine-point advantage, which would not prove to be as safe as it felt at the time. UTSA rallied in the second half, tying the game at 46-46. The fight was on.
Although Rice never trailed, the margins felt razor-thin right up until the literal final second. With 7.0 seconds on the clock and a one-point lead, guard Quincy Olivari walked to the free-throw line to shoot a one-and-one. He missed. The rebound went to UTSA and the Owls watched guard Japhet Medor drive the length of the court and put up the would-be game-winning shot at the buzzer.
“Live, I thought it was late. But when they took all that time I got really nervous,” head coach Scott Pera said.
UTSA celebrated. The referees went to the monitor. After conferring for what felt like forever, it was determined the shot was not released in time. The basket was no good. Rice had won.
“This is March Madness, right?” Pera mused. “That was some madness.”
Final Box | Rice 72 – UTSA 71
FINAL | @RiceMBB 72 – UTSA 71
Rice survives and advances pic.twitter.com/Sg9HSScsDs
— The Roost (@AtTheRoost) March 9, 2023
Key takeaway | Hope is not a strategy
At the end of the day, Pera and his team just had to wait. The officials and the monitors had the fate of the Owls’ season in their hands. One signal, and it could have all been over. “You have no control over it,” Pera admitted. “It’s just did it get off his fingers or not, and it’s a very strange feeling.”
UTSA took Rice down to the wire twice in the regular season. They got as close as could have been imagined this time around. The 10-23 Roadrunners had the Owls’ season on the brink..
“Kid made a heck of a play, a very tough shot. It just happened to be, I don’t know, a quarter second too late,” Pera admitted. “We were the beneficiaries of that. We’re appreciative to get the win and we’re happy to still be playing.”
Rice moves on to play UAB, who two weeks ago routed Rice in Birmingham. The rematch will be played in Frisco, but it’s going to require a lot more than hope for Rice to keep their season alive against the Blazers.
Against UTSA, Rice had a fast start. They shot the ball well. They had a great contribution off the bench from Andrew Akuchie. And it still went down to the wire. The Owls will have their work cut out for them against the Blazers. They’re going to need to bring their A-game. Hope won’t be enough to get by this time.
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