Courtesy Matt Pearce/Roger Steinman – Conference USA

Pavithr Goli

3/10/22 12:27am

The Rice men’s basketball team defeated the University of North Carolina at Charlotte by a score of 73-61 in the first round of the Conference USA tournament on Wednesday. The win puts the Owls in the quarterfinals of the tournament, matching them up against the University of North Texas, who entered the tournament as the No. 1 seed in the West division.

Head coach Scott Pera said he was very proud of how the team has overcome injuries to get this far in the tournament.

“I am very proud of them and happy that we got a win,” Pera said. “We have gone through a really tough stretch there due to a lot of circumstances that were out of our control. I am just really pleased with what we did tonight.”

The 49ers controlled the initial minutes after tipoff as they went on a 7-0 run to start the game. However, the Owls were able to take advantage of missed shots to get back into the game by the midpoint of the first half. From there, the Owls capitalized on a string of 49ers turnovers to build a seven point lead at the end of the first half.

According to Pera, the defensive effort and offensive play helped build the comfortable lead over the 49ers into the break, despite a bad night for their normally reliable three-point shooting.

“It was our defense and our execution offensively to keep increasing the lead,” Pera said. “We know that there are other ways to win, especially in March. However, we hope that there are no more in the future and I doubt that there will be.”

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The Owls let their positive momentum guide them into the start of the second half as the team continued to stabilize and grow their lead. The team fought off surges from the 49ers to build a comfortable 18 point lead with 2 minutes left in the game. From there, the 49ers, in desperation for the survival of their season, tried hard to close the margin but could only close the gap to nine points.

Sophomore forward Max Fiedler contributed on both sides of the ball, and found his way onto the stat sheet in numerous facets of the game. Pera said that Fiedler’s fingerprints could be found all over the win.

“Max [Fiedler] had 12 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists,” Pera said. “This is when he is at his best when he makes those great passes from the top of the key, finishing around the basket, and I thought his defense was excellent as well.”

Graduate guard Carl Pierre led the Owls in scoring with 16 points. After the game, Pierre said he was very pleased with the effort that his team left on the court.

“I’m super proud of the team,” Pierre said. “We have been locked in and I think these players have really come together to emphasize the opportunity that we have here. I can’t say enough how proud I am of our execution and how we played hard and got the dub.”

The Owls hope to extend their season tomorrow night when the team faces off against the Mean Green. In their two meetings against the Mean Green earlier in the season, the Owls lost to UNT by significant margins including a 32 point loss in early January and a 23 point loss in mid-February. According to Pera, the squad will now turn their focus to finding a way to reverse their fortunes against the Mean Green squad.

“It’s always exciting to play another game to win the conference tournament,” Pera said. “It doesn’t matter who it is against. Obviously, UNT is a tremendous team that has done tremendous things. But our kids will be locked in, prepared, and ready to go.”

The game tips off at 5:30 pm and will be broadcast on Stadium.