BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – Seth Gearhart scored a career-high 31 points as Rice University men’s basketball fought off a tenacious rally from first-place WKU to claim a 72-68 win at E.A. Diddle Arena. The senior connected on 9-of-13 field goals and all 10 free throws and scored the Owls’ final eight points in the victory.
WKU (16-7, 9-2 C-USA) battled back from a 19-point hole to take a two-point lead with just over three minutes to play. The Owls then took back the momentum and outscored the home team, 10-4, down the stretch. Rice shot a season-best 59.5 percent from the field and connected on 7-of-17 three-pointers and 15-of-17 free throws.
Head coach Mike Rhoades said, “We really challenged the team after Thursday night’s game at Marshall. We talked about fighting or folding. I’m so proud of them. Seth just played the game of his life. He played so aggressive and those guys just willed each other to win it. What a great moment for Dan Peera – the senior makes a big play at the end of the game with a three and the steal. You’ve got to have guts when you play this game. You can’t be afraid to fail and can’t be afraid to lose. You’ve got to play to win and our guys played to win today and I’m so darn proud of them. I’ve been very fortunate to be involved in some pretty cool stuff in my 19 years of coaching basketball and I don’t know if I’ve ever been more proud of a team because of their fight than I am of this team tonight.”
Gearhart tied for the team rebounding lead, with five. Andrew Drone also hauled in five board and tallied 10 points on 5-of-5 shooting. Marcus Jackson also scored in double figures with 10 points to accompany four assists and three rebounds.
Rice came out of the gate firing on all cylinders to start the game. The Owls turned a narrow 19-17 lead into double figures with a nine-point run mid-way through the opening period. Rice extended its lead to as many as 19 points late in the half and took a 43-26 advantage into the locker room. The Owls shot 68.2 percent from the field, 4-of-6 from downtown and 9-of-9 from the foul line in the opening period while holding the Hilltoppers to 33.3 percent shooting.
WKU did its best to replicate the Owls’ early success coming out of the intermission, as the home team scored 11 of the first 13 points in the second half to cut its deficit to single digits. The Owls responded to keep its lead between eight and 13 points for the first eight minutes of the frame, despite early foul trouble. WKU finally completed its comeback to tie the game at 59-59 with just under five minutes to play and took its first lead of the half one minute later. Rice sank all three field goals after that point and 4-of-5 foul shots to claim the win.
Rice owned a 28-27 advantage on the glass, including 25-of-36 missed Hilltopper shots. The Owls forced 11 turnovers with six steals which turned into 11 fast-break points and 15 total points off turnovers. Max Guercy dished out seven of the team’s 13 assists on the night to accompany seven points, four rebounds and a pair of steals.
WKU shot 41.8 percent from the field and 54.5 percent in the second half. Trency Jackson led the home team with 23 points and four of his team’s seven three-pointers.
The Owl bench tallied 11 points, including seven from Peera on 3-of-3 shooting. The senior sank a three-pointer and then pulled a clutch steal down the stretch and converted it for a layup and chance at a three-point play. Van Green and Jeremy Jones chipped in two points apiece in the complete team effort.
Rice (7-15, 4-6) returns home for a two-game home stand, beginning Thursday against Middle Tennessee. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. at Tudor Fieldhouse.