By: Tim Andrzejewski (firstname.lastname@example.org)
HOUSTON, Texas -- Rice battled back from a 13-point second half deficit to tie the game, but in the end it was not enough, as the Owls fell 80-77 to Middle Tennessee Thursday night at Tudor Fieldhouse.
Egor Koulechov recorded his second straight double-double and fourth of the season, scoring a game-high 31 points while grabbing a season-best 14 rebounds. It was his second 30-point game of the year and third of his career. Marcus Evans had 23 points, five rebounds and four assists, his second straight 20-point game and ninth of the year.
"It was a great college basketball game," said Rice head coach Mike Rhoades. "I'm just disappointed in the result. The last few minutes of the first half, we gave them momentum going into the second half. We shot ourselves in the foot at times. I love the fight we had. I love how we came back. I'm proud of our guys and their execution down the stretch to tie the game. But, it wasn't good enough."
The Owls entered the second half with a 38-34 lead. After the teams traded three-pointers to open the half, Middle Tennessee went on a 24-7 run to take its largest lead of the game, 61-48, with 11:06 to play.
But, Rice battled back. Evans and Koulechov hit back-to-back threes to cut the deficit to seven. After a Brandon Walters jumper, Koulechov hit four free throws and Evans drilled a three to make it 63-61. JaCorey Williams made one of two free throws but Marcus Jackson made two from the charity stripe to make it a one-point game with 5:58 to play.
Tyrik Dixon pushed the lead back to four with a three-pointer. After trading baskets, Koulechov hit two free throws, and after Reggie Upshaw missed a pair, Connor Cashaw tied the game at 69 with 2:32 remaining.
However, Middle Tennessee scored eight of the next ten points to take a six-point lead. Koulechov cut the deficit to 77-74 with 28 seconds to play. But, after Evans' three was off the mark, Williams sealed the game at the free throw line.
MT grabbed an early 4-2 lead. But a three-pointer by Jackson gave Rice its first lead, followed by Austin Meyer putting back his own rebound. Tyrik Dixon tied the game with a three, but Jackson connected on a pair of free throws.
With Rice leading 11-9, the Blue Raiders scored six straight points to take a 15-11 lead 6:42 into the game. Andrew Drone made one-of-two free throws and Evans made a layup to pull Rice within one. However, Middle Tennessee scored six of the next eight points to take its largest lead of the half, 21-16 midway through the opening stanza.
That's when Rice turned it on. Koulechov hit a jumper and Evans hit a pair of free throws. After a Williams turnover, Koulechov found Jackson for a backdoor layup and the lead. Koulechov then got back-to-back baskets to give Rice a 26-21 lead.
After Williams made a jumper, Evans drained a three to send Rice on a 7-0 run. Antwain Johnson made two free throws, but Evans hit his second three to give Rice its largest lead of the game, 36-25, with 3:01 to play. However, the Blue Raiders closed the half on a 9-2 run to send Rice into the break with a 38-34 lead.
Rice shot 47.2% (25-of-53) from the field, 45.0% (9-of-20) from three and 90.0% (18-of-20) from the free throw line. Middle Tennessee was 30-of-60 (50.0%) from the floor, 9-of-17 (52.9%) from three and was just 11-of-17 (64.7%) from the charity stripe.
Rice continues its homestand this Saturday, Jan. 7, when it hosts UAB. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. CT and will be live-streamed at CUSA.tv.