EL PASO, Texas --Rice came back from 13 points to take the lead in the second half, but in the end, their comeback attempt fell short, as it fell, 61-60, at UTEP Friday night in both team's Conference USA opener.
Marcus Evans led the squad with 13 points and eight rebounds. Max Guercy had 11 points, five rebounds and five assists and Egor Koulechov and Bishop Mency each scored 11 points. Andrew Drone had six points and a season-high nine rebounds and Connor Cashaw added eight boards.
Three minutes into the second half, UTEP's Hooper Vint was called for a foul, then was assessed a technical. Koulechov made one-of-two free throws and Marquez Letcher-Ellis made both to get the deficit to single digits. Two minutes later, Koulechov made a driving layup but Christian Romine made two free throws to push the lead back to nine points.
Two minutes later Guercy found Amir Smith for a layup, then hit Drone for a jumper to get to within five points midway through the second half. After Moore and Koulechov both made a pair of free throws, Guercy hit a jumper from the foul line to get the game to three. However, two straight UTEP baskets pushed the lead back to seven with six minutes to play.
Guercy hit Drone for a layup and a minute later, Evans made a layup. Hooper Vint made a jumper, but Koulechov came right back and drained a three-pointer to pull Rice to within 59-57 with 2:44 to play. Evans was fouled a minute later, but made just one-of-two free throws. A minute and a half passed before Evans gave Rice its first lead of the game with 23 seconds to play on a jumper. Dominic Artis then dribbled at the top of the key before driving to the basket for a layup to regain the lead. Rice had two chances for the win, bit Evans' jumper rimmed out and Drone, who got the offensive rebound, had his shot attempt with one second left blocked.
Rice (5-9, 0-1 C-USA) missed its first six shots as UTEP opened up a 10-3 lead to start the game. Koulechov hit a three-pointer for the Owls' first basket, but Terry Winn answered with a layup. After missed jumpers from Marquez Letcher-Ellis and Mency, Lee Moore hit a three to push the lead to 15-6, seven minutes into the game.
The teams traded three-pointers before Guercy scored five straight points to pull the Owls to within four. The teams twice traded baskets. Winn hit a jumper, but Mency answered with his second three of the half to get Rice to within 24-21 with 6:15 to play in the half.
Dominic Artis converted a three-point play before Cashaw found Letcher-Ellis for a dunk. However, five straight points pushed the Miners' (9-5, 1-0) lead to 33-23 with 4:31 remaining in the half. Rice got baskets from Mency and Cashaw, but a free throw from Moore followed by a three from Omega Harris made it a 10-point game. Mency closed the half for the Owls with a layup, pulling them to 37-29 at the break.
Rice shot just 37.7% (20-of-53) from the field and 25.0% (5-of-20) from three. UTEP was held to just 39.6% (21-of-53) from the floor and 35.3% (6-of-17) from beyond the arc. The Owls connected on 15-of-20 (75.0%) from the charity stripe and outrebounded the Miners, 42-to-31.
Rice continues its three-game road swing this Sunday, Jan. 3, when it travels to San Antonio to face UTSA. Tip-off is scheduled for 3 p.m. CT.