The “Preliminary” round for the men began tonight and as expected, Rice got by USM for a third time this season. It was not easy and the Owls led by just seven at the half in a low scoring one. USM went on an 11-0 run to take their only lead of the game at 49-48 with 5:07 left in the game. Rice did not let USM score a field goal after the 6:24 mark and got five of their own to pull away for their largest lead of the game.
Max Fieldler went to work in the post for a couple and Rice started getting run outs that led to easy transition buckets and free throws as the Owls pulled away and the Golden Eagles struggled to get anything down.
Travis Evee started slowly, going scoreless in the first half in fourteen minutes. He hit an early three to start the second half and showed a look of relief. He scored 12 in the second half.
Fiedler and Chris Mullins were the story of the first half and Evee and Fiedler were the story of the second. The 17 points and 11 rebounds by the big man paced the Owls. The inside shooting and the advantage from distance (21 points for Rice, to 6 for USM) were the difference in this one.
USM’s Tae Hardy scored 11 but shot 1 of 7 in the second half (3 of 7 in the first) and the misses were not close. I counted one air ball and two just-about. Former sixth man of the year LaDavius Draine went 0 of 4 from three and managed just two points.
Southern Miss finished 7th in the west and was the underdog in this one. Count this as a good effort and the business of turning around this program continues for head coach Jay Lander.
Meanwhile Rice will prepare to play Marshall tomorrow at 6pm. Quincy Olivari and Max Fiedler played 38 minues each, while Travis Evee played 34. Fatigue is a concern for this tournament and Rice is looking to win five games in five days.