Feb. 1, 2014
EL PASO, Texas – Rice University men’s basketball led first-place UTEP for virtually all of the first 34 minutes of play before one big Miner run put the home team in front for good as the Owls fell, 68-57, at the Don Haskins Center on Saturday night.
The Owls (6-15, 1-7 C-USA) came out gunning, scoring the first eight points of the game to set the tone. Rice then stretched the advantage to as many as nine points in the period as eight different players scored the team’s first eight baskets of the contest en route to a 30-21 halftime lead. Rice shot 41.4 percent from the floor with six three-pointers while holding the Miners to a 30.8 percent clip in the first 20 minutes.
UTEP (16-6, 6-1) responded with the first nine points of the second half to knot the score for the first time on the evening, at 30-30. Rice regained control and pushed its advantage back to nine points at 47-38. The Miners chipped away to take their first lead of the night at 51-49 with 6:04 to play. Rice quickly tied again at 51-51, but the Miners continued their 19-2 run to push the lead to 62-51 with under two minutes to play and end the Owls’ hopes.
Marcus Jackson led Rice with a career-high 14 points, including 4-of-7 three-pointers, to accompany three assists and a pair of steals. Max Guercy also reached double figures with 11 points and paced the squad with five of the team’s 13 assists on the night.
Sean Obi grabbed 13 of Rice’s 34 rebounds on the night and connected on 2-of-3 shots against the tall UTEP front-court for five points. The freshman added two blocks and a steal. Classmate Nizar Kapic matched his career best with nine points on 3-of-7 shooting.
Seth Gearhart also notched nine points with 3-of-5 three-pointers as well as four rebounds and two assists before fouling out. Rice connected on 11-of-28 three-pointers on the night and shot 35.7 percent from the field after cooling off from the floor in the second half.
The Owls battled foul trouble throughout the second half as UTEP spent a majority of the frame in the bonus. The Miners connected on 22-of-28 free throws on the night, compared to 6-of-11 for the Owls (all in the second half).
The Owls converted 10 UTEP turnovers into 14 points while committing 11 turnovers of their own, with nine coming in the first half. For the third time in the last four games, Rice owned an edge on points in the paint with an 18-16 margin.
UTEP’s Julian Washburn and C.J. Cooper scored 17 points to lead the home team, which shot 41.7 percent on the night. After sinking just 1-of-5 three-pointers in the opening 20 minutes, the Miners knocked down 5-of-8 in the second to aid their comeback.
The Owls return home next week to host North Texas on Thursday. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. at Tudor Fieldhouse.
NOTES: Guercy passed around five assists for the fourth-straight game … despite sinking just one three-pointer, team leading scorer Austin Ramljak notched a trey for the 27th-straight game.