HOUSTON, Texas - It took two extra periods, but Rice University men's basketball prevailed over Middle Tennessee, 71-68, in double overtime on Thursday night at Tudor Fieldhouse. The Owls sank 14-of-16 free throws following regulation to secure the win.
Head coach Mike Rhoades said, "I was so proud of the guys. We were playing pretty well and we had a lead, but we were playing not to lose. You can't play like that in college basketball. You're up 10 or 11 points and you've got to make it 18. We haven't had many leads like that and late in the game we've got to get better. Our guys were smiling in the huddle after regulation and they were ready to move on. We always talk about moving forward and making the next play. Today was a great example of that."
Marcus Jackson scored 20 points in regulation and finished with a team-high 24 on 7-of-15 shooting from the field with three treys. He added 7-of-9 free throws and paced the team with six rebounds to accompany three assists in 44 minutes of action.
Jackson had a three-pointer waved off at the end of regulation to force the first overtime period, but it was Middle Tennessee with the buzzer-beating shot to necessitate an additional five minutes of play. Trailing by three, the Blue Raiders' Jaqawn Raymond sank his first free throw with 1.8 seconds on the clock before intentionally missing his second. The ball fell into Marcus Tarrance's hands and he connected on a layup to tie the game once again, at 66-66.
In the second overtime, Max Guercy tied the game with a jumper in the paint on the Owls' first possession. The teams held each other scoreless until less than a minute remained on the clock. Seth Gearhart drew a foul and gave Rice a lead with a free throw. After a MT miss on the other end, Jackson grabbed the board and was then fouled with 22 seconds to play. The sophomore sank both shots to give the Owls a 71-68 lead and the squad held on defense to deny the Blue Raiders the tie.
Guercy tallied 16 points on 5-of-7 shooting and a 5-of-6 mark from the foul line in 44 minutes of action. He hauled in five rebounds, swiped five of Rice's steals and passed around three assists without a turnover. Gearhart notched 10 points, including a 5-of-8 mark on the free throw line. The senior added five rebounds and an assist while battling foul trouble through much of the contest.
To start the game, the Owls sank three of their first four treys to jump out to a 12-1 lead in the opening minutes. Rice then kept its lead early on by sinking 6-of-12 three-pointers at the start. The Owls then took a 27-18 lead into the locker room. It was the fewest first-half points allowed by Rice in league action this season.
After the break, Middle Tennessee pulled within 35-30 early in the second half before the Owls regained a double-figure advantage midway through the frame. The Blue Raiders hung around and made a move with less than five minutes remaining. MT cut it to 53-50 with two minutes to play and 53-51 with 55 seconds remaining. Reggie Upshaw then connected a layup with nine seconds on the clock to force overtime.
The Owls forced a season-high 22 turnovers, which converted to 21 points on the offensive end. Rice gave up the ball just eight times for nine MT points. The Blue Raiders owned a commanding 46-25 advantage on the glass, but scored just 10 second-chance points on 16 offensive boards.
Rice shot 41.2 percent from the field in the game with 8-of-21 three-pointers and an overall 21-of-31 mark at the foul line. MT shot 39.6 percent in the game and 3-of-12 from downtown. The visitors shot 5-of-14 in the extra periods to Rice's 2-of-6 mark.
Rice closes out the brief home stand on Saturday with a visit from UAB. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. at Tudor Fieldhouse.