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Rice knocks off Charlotte for first C-USA victory

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Three Sentence Summary: Rice turned around its trend of playing less than stellar basketball at crunch time by holding off Charlotte’s repeated comeback attempts on Saturday. The Owls executed at the free throw line and played strong defense. The live-by-the-3-, die-by-the-3-theme continued, but this time with a happy ending.

Team Records: Rice improved to 6-13, 1-5 in Conference USA. Charlotte dropped to 12-7, 3-3 in C-USA. The win snapped a Rice eight-game losing streak and a 16-game conference losing streak.

The Significance: A shot in the arm. The losing streak dampened spirits of the fan base. After the loss to previously winless in conference Marshall on Thursday, there may have been a few people wondering if Rice would be blanked in conference play. Instead they beat a Charlotte squad who has wins over two ranked teams (Michigan and K-State) and a somewhat healthy RPI of 111. Now the key is to build off of it, especially with a winnable game next up at UTSA.

Defining Moment: Rice held a lead in the 7- to 10-point range for most of the second half. A 9-4 Charlotte spurt cut a 9-point lead down to 3 with 1:59 left in the game. Rice worked the ball to Seth Gearhart, who nailed a 3-pointer with 1:33 left. That doubled the Owl lead, giving the team the necessary breathing room down the stretch.

What Went Right: 1. Rice hit a dozen 3-pointers in 24 attempts. 2. Rice helped force a season-high 18 turnovers, which they turned into 17 points. 3. Rice had 17 assists, compared to 11 for the 49ers.

What Went Wrong: 1. Charlotte shot 48 percent from the field. 2. The 49ers won the rebounding battle 35-26. 3. Shawn Lester came off the bench to score 18 points.

Big Man on Campus: With four players in double figure, this was a team win. Gearhart led the way with 16 points. Keith Washington stepped up to hit four monster free throws late. Austin Ramljak made a quartet of 3-pointers, and point guard Max Guercy recorded 10 points and 5 assists, while making 5 of 6 foul shots.

What did the Coach say: “When we made mistakes, we bounced back,” said Rice coach Ben Braun. “We didn’t hang our heads and compound them. Obviously Seth and Austin hit some big shots for us. It’s good to have a junior and a senior. These two guys showed great strength and leadership.”

What did the Seth say: “At the end of our offense when everything breaks down, coach let us make a play of our own,” said Rice junior Seth Gearhart. “Both time Max got into the lane. My defender went to help on Sean (Obi), so I was open both times.”

Read more about it: Charlotte 49ers fall again

The Series stands at: Rice 1, Charlotte 0

Next Rice game: The Owls play at 8 p.m. Thursday at UTSA

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