By: Tim Andrzejewski (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Junior Connor Cashaw led the Owls with 18 points and eight rebounds. Senior Bishop Mency scored 17 points on five-of-five three-point shooting and sophomore Ako Adams had 11 points and five assists. Freshman Najja Hunter and Malik Osborne added nine and seven points, respectively.
"We had plenty of opportunities to put (North Texas) away and win the game but we didn't," said Rice head coach Scott Pera. "I know how hard we're going to play. I know how hard we compete. But I have to do a better job of teaching them how to win these games. We need to continue to believe. We need to continue to be playmakers and not be afraid to make plays. We got the shots we needed. But we just didn't do enough to win the game and tonight we hurt again."
The teams traded baskets through the first five minutes. Adams bookended a pair of three-pointers in an 8-2 Rice (5-18, 2-8 C-USA) run to give the Owls their largest lead of the half, 13-7. However, Rice missed its next six shots as North Texas (13-10, 6-4) went on a 7-1 run to tie the game at 14 with 11:38 to play in the half.
Adams hit his third three-pointer of the half, but four straight UNT points gave the Mean Green their first lead since 3-0. Malik Osborne scored four straight points to give Rice a 21-18 lead with 7:09 left. But the Owls missed its next nine shots as North Texas went on an 8-0 run to take its largest lead of the half, 26-21. However, Cashaw hit four straight free throws to send Rice into the break trailing 26-25.
Rice came out strong in the second half as the teams traded leads for the first minutes. With Rice trailing 33-31, the Owls scored six straight points over the next 2:18 to take a 37-33 lead. After a three-point play by Roosevelt Smart, Mency drained a three. The teams traded baskets until five straight Rice points gave it a 47-40 lead with 11:44 to play.
The teams again traded points, but two free throws by Hunter followed by a Dylan Jones layup gave Rice its largest lead of the game, 53-44, midway through the second half. Smart hit a free throw and made a jumper, but Cashaw answered with a three. But that's when North Texas began its comeback.
Smart made a jumper and Osborne hit one-of-two free throws. UNT got a layup before Hunter hit a three. But Rice turned the ball over on three straight possessions as the Mean Green scored seven straight points to tie the game at 60 with 4:31 to play.
Mency answered with a three-pointer. After two Smart free throws, Cashaw found Hunter for a layup and he was fouled, but he missed the ensuing free throw. The teams traded points as Rice led 67-64 with 2:47 to play.
However, North Texas scored seven straight points over the next 1:36 to take a 71-67 lead. Mency then hit his fifth three-pointer of the game to pull Rice within one. The Owls got a defensive stop and had a chance to take the lead. But Hunter was called for a travel.
After two free throws pushed UNT's lead to three, Adams drove the length of the court for a layup and looked to get fouled. But he was instead called for a charge, negating the basket. Ryan Woolridge then sealed the game with a free throw.
Rice connected on 47.6% (20-of-42) from the floor, a season-high 58.8% (10-of-17) from three and 74.1% (20-of-27). North Texas was 23-of-56 (41.1%) was the field, 5-of-23 (21.7%) from three and 23-of-30 (76.7%) from the charity stripe.
North Texas, however, scored 22 points off 18 Rice turnovers.
Rice continues its road swing next Thursday, Feb. 8, when it travels to Murfreesboro, Tenn., to face league-leader Middle Tennessee. Tip-off is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. CT and the game will be livestreamed by Stadium on Facebook.