CHARLOTTE, N.C. – On a night that saw eight Charlotte men’s basketball players honored for their academic success in the fall semester, the rebuilding 49ers learned another lesson on the basketball court.
Ako Adams drained a triple from the right perimeter with 1:14 to play, breaking a 58-all tie and propelling Rice to a 65-61 result before an announced crowd of 3,837 in Halton Arena.
“I’m really proud of the way we bounced back in the second half,” said Charlotte coach Ron Sanchez. “For us to have an opportunity to take the lead shows fight in the guys. I think that we did a really good job defensively in the second half, too … I could not ask for them to do more.”
Rice (9-13, 4-5 C-USA) maintained separation from the home Niners in the opening stanza by drilling the three. A Trey Murphy III conversion from beyond the arc started a 12-3 burst for the Owls, putting Rice ahead by eight midway through the period. Charlotte pulled within striking distance on several occasions, with a Jon Davis layup at the 5:34 mark pulling the home side within four points. That bucket would be the final Charlotte make of the half, however, as Rice closed the half on a 9-2 run to take a 37-26 lead to the interval.
Rice connected on 8-of-14 tries from distance in the first half, while hitting just 3-of-15 from inside the arc. Charlotte was the polar opposite in the period, knocking down 9-of-13 tries from two, versus just 2-of-13 from the perimeter.
Charlotte (5-16, 2-8 C-USA) gradually worked its way back in the game as it has much of the year: on defense. The Niners trailed by double figures after a Quentin Millora-Brown dunk with 16:48 to play, but a Jon Davis bucket capped a 12-0 Charlotte run that put the home side ahead for the first time in nearly 23 minutes of game action.
Rice’s first bucket in nearly six minutes drew the game level, and Charlotte extended its lead to five with a brief burst. The Owls then countered with a 6-0 run of their own, again seizing the lead. That set the stage for the Adams connection that Sanchez felt put away the game.
“In tight games, you have to be anchored just to something. You’ve gotta know what you stand for. You’ve gotta know where your trust is,” said Sanchez. “We gave up a wide-open three-point shot at the end there. That one was a dagger. It really hurt us. We couldn’t bounce back from that one.”
Despite that, the Niners still had multiple shots to tie the game. After a foul, Rice went to the free throw line for a try it missed, but Charlotte was whistled for a lane violation Sanchez called “non-obvious” with a wry smile. The Owls made the most of the opportunity, making both free throws. A Davis three would not fall, but a Rice miss from the foul line gave Charlotte additional life. Davis was then fouled before he could take a shot, and after making just one of two, Rice was then able to salt away the proceedings from the charity stripe. Rice finished the game on a 12-3 run.
“Any win is a good win, obviously. A lot of credit goes to Charlotte for responding at the start of the second half,” said Rice coach Scott Pera in his postgame comments. “But, I’m really proud of our kids’ response down the stretch. That’s where we have struggled before. I’m going to say it for the third time. Our point guard played at the end of the game and what a difference it made. Defensively, we really locked down. Boy, that’s a heck of a win for us and I’m thrilled.”
Sanchez, as he has all season, still saw the good in a tough result.
“All that experience is … is going through this. Being in these moments, that’s how you learn. You can’t [replicate] this in a scrimmage situation, or in a practice,” said Sanchez. “In our opinion, there is no failure here. We only grow. We grow from where we are. Failure is non-existent in our locker room. We just grow.”
Charlotte notched three double-digit scorers, paced by Davis’ 28. The senior from Maryland connected on 12-of-21 tries from the field. Milos Supica finished a carom shy of a double-double, scoring 14 and snagging nine boards. Malik Martin added 11 for the Niners.
Despite enjoying a 32-18 advantage in points in the paint, the Niners hauled in just one offensive rebound. Charlotte also connected on just 6-of-25 tries from distance.
Adams’ 16 led the Owls’ effort, as he connected on 3-of-6 from three and 5-of-6 from the line. Forward Robert Martin contributed 15, with Murphy III canning four triples to finish with 12.
Both teams resume Conference USA play on Saturday. Rice heads to Norfolk, Va., to take on Old Dominion. Game time from the Constant Center will be 7:00 (Eastern). Charlotte welcomes North Texas to Halton Arena for a 4:00 (Eastern) tip time.
RICE 65, CHARLOTTE 61
RICE (9-13, 4-5 C-USA): Williams 0-5 2-2 2, Millora-Brown 2-4 2-2 6, Adams 4-9 5-6 16, Peterson 0-1 0-0 0, Mullins 2-11 0-2 5, Moore 0-3 0-0 0, Parrish 3-6 3-4 9, Murphy III 4-5 0-1 12, Martin 5-8 2-2 15. Totals 20-52 14-19 65.
CHARLOTTE (5-16, 2-8 C-USA): Supica 6-9 2-2 14, McGill 0-3 2-2 2, Davis 12-21 1-4 28, Robb 1-3 2-2 4, Younger 0-2 0-0 0, Haslem 0-0 0-0 0, Martin 3-11 2-2 11, Mangum 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 23-50 9-12 61.
Halftime — Rice 37-26. 3-Point Goals—Rice 11-22 (Williams 0-2, Adams 3-6, Mullins 1-2, Moore 0-1, Parrish 0-1, Murphy III 4-5, Martin 3-5), Charlotte 6-25 (McGill 0-3, Davis 3-9, Robb 0-2, Younger 0-2, Martin 3-9). Fouled Out — Robb (CHA). Rebounds — Rice 36 (Williams 10), Charlotte 28 (Supica 9). Assists — Rice 15 (Adams/Mullins 4), Charlotte 9 (Supica 3). Total Fouls — Charlotte 18, Rice 17. Technical — NA. A — 3837.
Points in the Paint —Charlotte 32, Rice 18. Points off Turnovers —Charlotte 18, Rice 13. Second-Chance Points — Rice 7, Charlotte 0. Fast Break Points — Rice 8, Charlotte 6. Bench Points — Rice 36, Charlotte 13.