FORT WORTH, Texas — Sussy Ngulefac scored 15 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, Emily Klaczek added 14 points and 10th-seeded Rice defeated ninth-seeded East Carolina 61-41 in an improbable America Athletic Conference championship game Wednesday night for the Owls' fourth NCAA Tournament berth.

Rice (19-14), which last went to the Big Dance in 2019, had to win four straight games. After beating the seventh seed by 15, the Owls beat the second seed by two and the fourth seed by one, that after closing the regular season with five losses.

“This new tournament season we said we were going to break every huddle with our left hand because it is closest to our hearts,” third-year coach Lindsay Edmonds said. “This team played with so much heart. I’m so proud of them. It’s awesome.”

Malia Fisher had 13 points and eight rebounds for the Owls. Destiny Jackson had 10 points and eight rebounds.

Danae McNeal had 14 points for the defending tournament champion Pirates (19-14), who beat the eighth, first (Tulsa) and third seeds by a total of six points.

Rice took control early, racing to an 18-3 lead after one quarter. Klaczek closed the quarter with a pair of 3 pointers and Ngulefac had her second three-point play to start a closing 11-0 run. The Pirates were 1 of 12.

“We talked about being tough together because we’re committed to the win, and man they’re tough,” Edmonds said. "They showed it in a bunch of different ways. We hung our hats on the defensive end and we held them to three points in the first quarter. It set the tone for what we were trying to do.”

East Carolina ended up 1 of 8 from 3-point range, shot 29% overall (14 of 49) and was just 12 of 20 from the foul line, while getting outrebounded 43-29.

Ngulefac had a layup to make it 20-3 and Maya Bokunewicz hit a 3 in the closing seconds to make it 34-17 at the half.

Rice was 10 of 18 on 3-pointers (55.6%) but 11 of 37 inside the arc (29.7%).

Both teams finished 9-9 in conference, but the Owls won both games against East Carolina by double figures.

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