No. 22 FAU rolls over Rice, grabs share of AAC lead

Nick Boyd scored 18 points and had three steals as No. 22 Florida Atlantic moved into a first-place tie in the American Athletic Conference with a 69-56 win over Rice on Wednesday night in Houston.

Florida Atlantic (16-4, 6-1) joined Charlotte, which beat FAU in their first meeting on Jan. 6, as AAC teams starting conference play with six wins in their first seven games.

Johnell Davis had 14 points and nine rebounds and Alijah Martin managed 14 points and eight boards as Florida Atlantic swept its two-game road trip in Texas.

FAU made 24 of 55 shots (43.6 percent), including 6 of 17 (35.3 percent) from 3-point range.

Alem Huseinovic led Rice (7-12, 1-5) with 16 points and Mekhi Mason had 13 points and three steals, but the squad lost for the sixth time in its past seven outings.

Rice made just 22 of 63 shots (34.9 percent) and 5 of 11 (45.5 percent) from the foul line, including key misses down the stretch.

As has been its tendency during conference action, Florida Atlantic started slowly and trailed 6-5 through the first 7 1/2 minutes.

Coach Dusty May’s club took its first lead on Vladislav Goldin’s layup at 12:28.

In the low-scoring first 20 minutes, the visitors built a 33-26 lead — its largest of the half — on Davis’ layup at 1:16 and closed the frame with that advantage intact.

As his team shot 46.4 percent (13 of 28), Boyd paced the scoring with 11 first-half points, as he was 2 of 3 from long range. Brandon Weatherspoon added seven off the FAU bench before the break.

Rice struggled even more from the floor, connecting on 10 of 30 shots (33.3 percent) in the first 20 minutes, though it did hit 4 of 11 (36.4 percent) from deep.

Mason led Rice with seven first-half points, but Florida Atlantic owned an 18-6 edge in paint points and led 20-15 in rebounding.

The visitors opened the second half on an 11-5 run and put separation between them and their fellow Owls.

The lead grew to 48-33 on Martin’s dunk at 14:13, but Rice cut it to 53-48 on Mason’s jumper with 6:45 to go.

Florida Atlantic never let Rice get closer and sealed its fifth straight victory.