By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay
UTSA players celebrated for a precious few seconds Wednesday night on one of the two basketball courts set up inside The Star in Frisco.
They thought they had beaten the Rice Owls in the Conference USA men’s tournament.
But in the end, game officials reviewed the last play and waved off a dramatic, game-winning shot by Japhet Medor because it was released from his hand after the buzzer.
Consequently, the Owls escaped with a 72-71 victory, eliminating the 11th-seeded Roadrunners in the tournament’s first round and bringing an end to a disappointing season.
No. 6 seed Rice will move on to play the third-seeded UAB Blazers in the quarterfinals on Thursday night.
A downcast UTSA coach Steve Henson, talking with radio play-by-play man Andy Everett on the postgame show, praised his players’ resolve to stay together through a tough season.
The toughest part of it, incidentally, being the last play.
“I’ve been a part of a few of those over the years, and it doesn’t get any easier,” Henson said. “We had one at UNLV. We had one in the conference tournament at Oklahoma against West Virginia. Buddy Hield hit a shot and we celebrated, and they went back and waved it off. It’s hard to take.”
In the final analysis, what will hurt the Roadrunners the most about the end of the game is that they executed nearly flawlessly and came up less than a second shy of what would have been a sweet victory.
Guard Quincy Olivari hit a driving bank shot to boost the Owls into a 72-67 lead with 1:19 remaining.
Even though Medor turned it over on UTSA’s next possession, the Roadrunners kept fighting, forcing a missed three by Owls forward Cam Sheffield.
UTSA rushed it up the court and went to center Jacob Germany, who hit a turnaround from six feet with 23 seconds left, bringing the Roadrunners to within 72-69.
After a timeout, Rice inbounded to Mekhi Mason, who was immediately trapped by Roadrunners guards Christian Tucker and D.J. Richards.
Richards got his hands on it for a held ball, which resulted in a Rice turnover and a UTSA possession.
The Roadrunners inbounded and looked for a three, but then Isaiah Addo-Ankrah saw a lane and drove it for a layup with eight seconds left, cutting the lead to the eventual final score.
On the inbound, UTSA fouled immediately, sending Olivari to the line for a one-and-one with 7.2 seconds left.
Olivari missed the free throw. UTSA secured the rebound and dished to Medor, who sped to the other end.
In traffic, he went up for the shot and banked it in, prompting the scoreboard to reflect oh, so briefly a 73-72 victory for the Roadrunners.
But not for long.
As officials started to review the play at the monitor, it became apparent during televised replays that Medor’s shot would not count. The ball clearly was still in his hands when the red lights around the backboard flashed, signaling no time left.
The shot didn’t count, and the Roadrunners’ season was over.
“Our guys are crushed and disappointed,” Henson said.
Rice — Quincy Olivari, 18 points on seven of 18 shooting from the field. Also, eight rebounds. Mekhi Mason, 12 points and three assists. Cam Sheffield, 11 points and seven rebounds. Max Fiedler, 10 points on five of six shooting, six assists and four rebounds.
UTSA — Japhet Medor, 20 points on seven of 14 shooting. Also, six rebounds and six assists. D.J. Richards, 14 points, including three 3-pointers. Jacob Germany, 11 points on five of 13 from the field, and six rebounds.
UTSA finished with a 10-22 record for the second straight season. UTSA also has been ousted from the C-USA tournament in the opening game two years in a row. Last year, they were beaten 67-64 by the Southern Miss Golden Eagles.
The loss to Rice marked the end of a 10-year run for UTSA men’s basketball in Conference USA. UTSA will move into the American Athletic Conference next season.
Roadrunners center Jacob Germany had one blocked shot against Rice, which tied him with McEverett Powers for third place on the career list with 105. If he has played his last game at UTSA, Germany will finish ninth in scoring with 1,293 points. He would also finish fourth in rebounding with 779.
The Owls hit 50 percent from the field in the opening 20 minutes and built a 42-33 halftime lead on the Roadrunners.
Striking early in the C-USA tournament opener for both teams, the Owls outscored the Roadrunners 8-0 in the first minute and never trailed. Cam Johnson and Quincy Olivari knocked down three pointers and Max Fiedler added a layup in the opening salvo.
UTSA went to the bench and plugged in a few reserves to turn it around. The Roadrunners had it going momentarily when Christian Tucker’s pullup cut the Rice lead to 10-9.
From there, the Owls went on an 11-1 run which was capped by an Alem Huseinovich three-point basket. Hoisted out of the corner, it gave the Owls 21-10 lead.
The Roadrunners trailed by as many as 12 in the half and never got closer than five before intermission. Richards buoyed the UTSA hopes with 11 points in 17 minutes.
C-USA men’s tournament
At The Star, in Frisco
WKU 73, UTEP 67
Louisiana Tech 81, FIU 76
Rice 72, UTSA 71
No. 1 Florida Atlantic (28-3) vs. No. 8 WKU (17-15), 5:30 p.m.
No. 4 Middle Tennessee (18-13) vs No. 5 Charlotte (18-13), 6 p.m.
No. 2 North Texas (25-6) vs. No. 10 Louisiana Tech (15-17), 8 p.m.
No. 3. UAB (23-8) vs. No. 6 Rice (18-14), 8:30 p.m.