By: Tim Andrzejewski (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Sophomore Ako Adams led all scorers with a career-high 20 points, including five three-pointers. Freshman Malik Osborne also had a career-high 18 points while adding a team-leading six rebounds and three blocks. Junior Connor Cashaw had 11 points and four rebounds. Senior Bishop Mency added nine points and five boards.
"I want to put an exclamation point on how proud I am of our guys with our response from Thursday night," said Rice head coach Scott Pera. "In order to win these games, you have to produce when games are tight and make the big plays. Tonight, we made the plays in the last four minutes. We made winning plays. Overall, I'm just really, really proud of the group. I'm proud of their approach. I'm proud of their habits and I'm glad they got a win. They deserve it."
Charlotte (5-9, 1-2 C-USA) started the scoring but Adams hit a three. After the 49ers hit back-to-back baskets, Rice (4-13, 1-3) scored six straight points to take a 9-6 lead. Milos Supica made one-of-two free throws, Tim Harrison made a three to give Rice a 12-7 lead just 5:23 into the game.
After the teams traded baskets, Charlotte cut the deficit to three with a tip-in. But three straight Rice baskets gave it its largest lead of the game, 20-11.
After Charlotte made a three, Osborne hit a pair of free throws. The teams then traded baskets over the next 2:20. With Rice leading 26-18 with 8:51 to play in the half, the 49ers went on a 10-3 run to cut the Owls lead to just 29-28, 2:52 later.
The teams traded three-pointers, but Rice scored eight of the next nine points to extend its lead to eight. However, Charlotte scored the last five points of the half as Rice entered halftime with a 40-37 lead.
Rice scored six of the first eight points of the second half as Adams hit two threes to give Rice a 46-39 lead. However, the Owls went cold, missing eight of its next nine shots as Charlotte went on a 10-2 run to take its first lead since 2-0, 49-48.
The teams traded baskets over the next 4:50. With 8:24 to play and the game tied at 54, made one-of-two free throws and then made a layup. The teams traded baskets before Austin Ajukwa's free throws cut the lead to 59-58 with 5:45 to play.
That's when Rice took over. Mency made his only three of the game and then found Najja Hunter for a layup. Charlotte made two-of-four free throws to cut the lead to four. After Adams made one-of-two free throws, Osborne took two straight charges and made four consecutive free throws as Rice scored seven straight points to take a 71-60 lead and put the game away.
"It's important (to win), because obviously we've been struggling. We were thrown into the fire in non-conference. Hopefully, we're growing up a little bit and maybe it will propel us."
Rice connected on 46.4% (26-of-56) from the floor and 36.4% (8-of-22) from three. The Owls also shot 76.5% (13-of-17) from the free throw line. Charlotte was held to just 38.7% (24-of-62), including 29.0% in the second half, and 23.1% (6-of-26) from three.
Rice closes its homestand next Saturday, January 13, when it hosts North Texas. Tip-off is scheduled for 2 p.m. CT and the game will be livestreamed at ESPN3.