HOUSTON - Rice closed the game on a 15-3 run over the final 4:24 to defeat UTSA, 80-68 and earn its fifth straight victory, Thursday night at Tudor Fieldhouse.
With the win, Rice improves to 18-8, 8-5 in Conference USA. It is the longest conference winning streak since joining C-USA and the longest since a seven game streak over the 2005-2006 conference seasons.
Marcus Evans led all players with 26 points and six assists. Egor Koulechov scored 18 points, all in the second half, while grabbing a team-high eight rebounds. Marcus Jackson scored 13 points and Marquez Letcher added 10 points and five boards.
"I'm really proud of our guys," said Rice head coach Mike Rhoades. "We didn't shoot (the ball) well in the first half, so we were fighting it. I knew we would make shots. We have too many good shooters not to make shots. We needed a `next play' mentality and I thought we had that in the second half. We changed up our defense in the second half and that helped us. We didn't rebound the ball great today but we got some crucial rebounds down the stretch."
Rice led 28-27 entering the second half. The Owls scored the first seven points of the half to take a 35-27 just 1:24 into the second stanza. However, UTSA went on an 11-2 run over the next 3:53 to grab a 38-37 lead.
Evans then hit two straight three-pointers while converting a four-point play to retake a 44-28 lead. After trading baskets, the Roadrunners went on a 10-3 run to lead 50-49 with 10:33 to play. But a three-pointer by Koulechov followed by a four-point play from Jackson gave Rice a 56-50 lead.
A basket by George Willborn III and two Lucas O'Brian free throws made it a two-point game. The teams went back and forth over the next three minutes, trading basket for basket. UTSA then scored four straight points to tie the game at 65 with 5:20 remaining.
That's when Rice stepped up its play. Evans scored five straight points on a three and a pair of free throws. The teams traded baskets and Gino Littles made one-of-three free throws to make it a four-point game with 1:28 to play. But Koulechov hit a three and Letcher-Ellis hit a pair of free throws. Chad Lott blocked O'Brien's jumper and Koulechov grabbed the rebound, was fouled and made one-of-two from the charity stripe. Letcher-Ellis sealed the win with a layup.
Rice opened the scoring with a dunk by Letcher-Ellis. UTSA took a 4-2 lead, but the teams traded baskets over the next three minutes. With the game tied at eight. However, Rice missed seven of its next eight shots as the Roadrunners went on a 12-4 run to take a 20-12 lead with 7:32 to play in the half.
But the Owls bounced back. Evans scored two straight baskets. After a missed UTSA three, Bishop Mency got the ball down low to Austin Meyer who hit a jumper. Mency then stole the ball from O'Brien and laid it in to tie the game at 20.
Evans gave Rice its first lead since 2-0, making one-of-two free throws. Byron Frohnen tied the game at 21 for UTSA. After Tim Harrison made one-of-two free throws, Chad Lott, Meyer and Jackson made three straight baskets to finish off a 15-1 run and give the Owls their largest lead of the half, 27-21, with 1:32 to play. But, the Roadrunners scored six of the final seven points as Rice went into halftime with a 28-27 lead.
Rice shot 48.3% (29-of-60) from the field and 37.5% (9-of-24) from three despite missing its first 10 three-pointers of the game. UTSA was held to just 24-of-60 (40.0%) from the floor and 2-of-16 (12.5%) from three. Rice was outrebounded for just the sixth time this year, 45-to-33.
Rice continues its homestand this Saturday, Feb. 18, when it hosts UTEP. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. CT and will be live-streamed by CUSA.tv.
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