Junior Connor Cashaw led the Owls with 18 points and a game-high eight rebounds. Freshman Najja Hunter scored a career-high 13 points while grabbing five rebounds. Sophomore Ako Adams scored 12 points and freshman Malik Osborne added 11 points and five boards.
"We can't go on the road and expect to beat a team like Middle Tennessee by shooting 6-for-25 from three," said Rice head coach Scott Pera. "At the same time they hit more threes than they have all year. So the credit goes to them. They played tremendous and made shots."
Rice started the game strong. After the Blue Raiders scored the first two baskets, Rice scored seven of the next nine points as Adams gave Rice its first lead with a three-point play. After Middle Tennessee hit a three-pointer, Cashaw answered with a three of his own to force a Blue Raider timeout just 3:38 into the game.
MT regained the lead, but Rice went on an 8-3 run, capped off by an Adams three-pointer to give the Owls their largest lead of the game, 18-14 with 13:18 to play. After the teams traded baskets Middle Tennessee scored eight of the next 11 points to regain the lead, 24-23.
The teams again traded buckets, as Rice grabbed a 27-26 lead with 7:21 left in the half. However, the Owls went cold, making just one of its final 10 shots as the Blue Raiders closed the half on a 24-6 run to lead 50-33 at the break.
Pera added, "I thought we came in prepared. We were locked in to do what we needed to do. We made shots. We got to the line and made good decisions with the ball. But over time, when teams keep hitting shots, it wears you down and every shot you take becomes magnified. We just couldn't keep pace with them tonight."
Middle Tennessee hit two three-pointers to start the second half, but Rice answered with a 7-0 run. After Brandon Walters made one-of-two free throws and Giddy Potts hit a three, Hunter made two free throws. The Blue Raiders then made a jumper, but Rice went on an 8-3 run to pull within 65-50 with 12:42 to play.
However, Middle Tennessee went on a 13-2 run over the next 3:11 to put the game away.
Rice connected on just 40.4% (23-of-57) from the floor and 24.0% (6-of-25) from three. But the Owls hit a season-high 85.2% (23-of-27) from the foul line. Middle Tennessee was 35-of-68 (51.5%) from the field and 15-of-32 (46.9%) from three.
Rice closes its road trip this Saturday, Feb. 10, when it travels to Birmingham, Ala., to face UAB. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. CT and the game will be livestreamed by CUSA.tv.