HOUSTON -- Charlotte attempted the approach taken by Marshall on Thursday night by jumping out to a quick 6-0 lead against Rice on Saturday night. However, while Rice struggled to find its rhythm offensively and defensively against Marshall, there was little question that these Owls were well on their way to having a different outcome than the one experienced Thursday.
It was 6-foot-7, junior sharpshooter Seth Gearhart that started the scoring for the Owls with a 3-pointer from the top of the key. Down 6-0 at the time, the Owls didn’t stop until they had sealed their first Conference USA win of the season over the Charlotte 49ers, 71-69.
“I’m rolling up to the top and Sean (Obi) is such a big presence down low that my guy has to help down,” said Gearhart. “So the guards know that I’m going to be open almost every time on that play, at least for a second.”
Gearhart finished the game with 16 points to lead the Owls on 5-of-9 from the floor, but 4-of-7 from the 3-point line. Part of the reason he shot so well from beyond the arc is because of some added practice.
“Seth was also in the gym, he doesn’t know I know this,” said head coach Ben Braun. “But, Seth was in the gym 45 minutes after practice last night, shooting and was late for dinner. I’m not going to make him run though. He was making shots in practice. So, if he wants to be a few minutes late and he can maybe knock down his three’s, that’ll be alright with me.”
THE PARLIAMENT FOLLOWED ALONG
Gearhart had help from senior shooting guard Austin Ramljak who added 13. He was 4-of-6 from the 3-point line which helped the Owls shoot a sizzling 12-of-24 for 50 percent from 3-land.
However, it was a total team effort for Braun’s group as sophomore point guard Max Guercy and gutty sophomore guard Keith Washington added 10 each.
Washington couldn’t play on Thursday night due to dental surgery earlier in the week. However, against a tough Charlotte team he saw 23 minutes of floor time, and that thrilled Braun.
“What I liked about Keith’s energy today is that he channeled it in a positive way to help his teammates, took what the defense gave him,” said Braun. “It was really one of his better floor games that he’s had here at Rice. He plays the whole game against a pressure team and doesn’t turn the ball over one time.
“(He) finds some guys, knocks two big three’s down, makes two big free throws at the end, and I thought his defense was pretty good.”
The Owls defense as a whole was spot on Saturday night. They went from one steal in the first half to five in the second half. They also forced Charlotte into 18 turnovers, four more than their average prior to Saturday night.
THE WAY IT UNFOLDED
Charlotte entered the game 12-6 and for a few minutes seemed as though it would leave Tudor Fieldhouse 13-6 after jumping out to an early lead. But, that lead dissipated when Rice forward Ross Wilson scored on a layup that would give the Owls their first lead at 23-21 with 7:11 to play in the first half. Braun and his Owls would never relinquish the lead.
The 49ers kept it close throughout and actually cut the lead to one at 1:38 of the first half on a Terrence Williams free throw. But, Rice would add a Ramljak free throw and a Gearhart 3 to close out the first half with a 36-31 lead.
The second half belonged to Rice as the Owls led the 49ers by as many as 11. Nevertheless, Charlotte wasn’t going down without a fight as 6-foot-4 sophomore guard Sean Lester connected on 6-of-9 from the floor for 18 points. In fact, it was Lester who hit the 3-point shot to cut the Owl’s lead to one at 70-69 with 18 seconds remaining.
Guercy would close out the scoring for Rice hitting 1-of-2 free throws. Rice freshman Sean Obi was big inside for the Owls as he scored eight points and secured seven really big rebounds.
Charlotte’s Willie Clayton added 13 points and point guard Pierria Henry, who a few days ago had surgery to remove a cyst above his eye, scored 10 points and tossed out six assists.
Charlotte is now 12-7, 3-3 in Conference USA while Rice is 6-13, 1-5. Next up for Charlotte is a Jan. 30 date with FAU while the Owls will travel to San Antonio to face UTSA. That game will be televised on CSS.