By: Tim Andrzejewski (email@example.com)
HOUSTON -- Rice made its first eight shots of the second half to turn a one-point halftime deficit into a 72-65 victory over Southern Miss, Saturday night at Tudor Fieldhouse
Marcus Evans scored a game-high 23 points, while connecting on 11-of-12 free throws and recording five steals. Egor Koulechov recorded his fifth double-double of the year, scoring 21 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. It was his second straight 20-point game and his fifth of the season. Marquez Letcher-Ellis added seven points and eight rebounds.
"I thought we did a good job coming out in the second half," said Rice head coach Mike Rhoades. We were much more focused (with) more energy. We just did a really good job of playing the game the right way. I thought we shared the ball and got some really good shots. (We) got some momentum going in the second half. We did a good job of getting stops. If we can play defense like that for the full 40 (minutes), it's really going to help us down the stretch."
The second half began with Rice (8-15, 3-7 C-USA) hitting its first eight shots to turn a one-point halftime deficit into a 46-36 lead six minutes into the half. In that time Koulechov, who was just 2-of-7 from three in the first half, connected on three straight to start the second. The teams traded baskets over the next 4:50.
With Rice leading 53-46, the Owls went on a 9-0 run to take its largest lead of the game at 62-46 with 5:52 to play. In the final six minutes, the Owls only took three shots, missing each of them. However, Rice connected on 12-of-14 free throws in that time, preventing Southern Miss (7-14, 4-6) from getting no closer than seven points.
Added Rhoades, "I got after the guys at halftime. I challenged them. I just thought (that) we were letting some things in the first half that didn't go our way affect our play and you've got to let go of that. When you have competitive guys, sometimes you hold on to that. I think we did a good job at halftime of just clearing our minds and (allowing us to) attack the second half."
Rice hit four of its first six shots to start the game, jumping out to a 10-4 lead four minutes into the game. However, Southern Miss went on a 12-3 run over the next 3:11 to take a 16-13 lead. After trading free throws, Koulechov found Andrew Drone for a dunk. Khari Price made one-of-two free throws before Marcus Evans stepped in front of Keljin Blevins' pass and went in for the uncontested dunk, tying the game at 19 with 6:55 to play in the half.
The game stayed that way for almost three minutes before Blevins made one-of-two free throws. Letcher-Ellis made a pair from the charity stripe and Max Guercy hit a three-pointer to give Rice a 24-20 lead with 3:48 to play. However, the Golden Eagles came back with five points of their own.
Koulechov hit a three and Tim Rowe tied the game at 27 with 1:53 to play. The score remained tied until the final second of the half, when Rowe made one-of-two free throws to take a 28-27 lead into halftime.
Rice shot 44.0% (22-of-50) from the floor, but was just 28.6% (8-of-28) from three. The Owls also connected on 20-of-22 (90.9%). Southern Miss was 24-of-53 (45.3%) from the field and 7-of-24 (29.2%) from three. Rice outrebounded the Golden Eagles, 33-to-29.
Rice begins a two-game road trip next Thursday, February 11, when it travels to Charlotte. Tip-off is scheduled for 6 p.m. CT.