By: Tim Andrzejewski (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Freshman Malik Osborne led Rice with 15 points and four rebounds. Junior Connor Cashaw had 13 points and four assists and freshman Miles Lester scored 13 points on a career-high four three-pointers. Senior Bishop Mency had eight points and a team-high seven rebounds and sophomore Ako Adams added seven points and seven assists.
WKU made its first four shots of the game, scoring the first 10 points as Rice turned the ball over on two of its first three possessions. The Owls finally got on the board with a three-pointer by Mency.
After a pair of Hilltopper free throws, Osborne hit back-to-back threes as Rice scored eight of the next 10 points. WKU made a layup, but Lester answered with a three to pull Rice within 16-14 with 13:22 to play. The Hilltoppers made back-to-back buckets before Cashaw hit a jumper to make it a 20-16 game midway through the first half.
The teams traded baskets over the next four minutes. However, with Rice trailing 27-23, the Owls missed its next five shots while turning the ball over three times as WKU went on a 15-0 run to take a 42-23 lead with 3:29 to play in the half.
Cashaw hit a three to stop the run. The teams again traded baskets before Rice got back-to-back steals from Cashaw and Adams that led to baskets. But WKU ended the half with a layup to take a 48-31 lead into the break.
The teams traded baskets for the first five minutes of the second half. The Hilltoppers made two straight baskets, but Mency was fouled on a three-pointer and made all three free throws. Dylan Jones then got Rice within 13 points, 60-47, with 12:34 to play. However, WKU went on a 17-2 run over the next 7:08 to put the game away.
"I thought (WKU) dominated from the start," said Rice head coach Scott Pera. "They were ready to play. They're a veteran, experienced, older group. The 10-0 run out of the gate shows how focused they were. We had no answer. We tried to fight and make it competitive in the first half, but they separated again. When you're down (17 points) at halftime you have to be perfect in the second half and we were not. They deserve all the credit."
Rice connected on 41.4% (24-of-58) from the field and 36.4% (12-of-33) from three. WKU was 33-of-59 from the floor and 10-of-18 (55.6%) from beyond the arc. The Hilltoppers won the rebounding battle, 36-to-27 and outscored the Owls in the paint, 44-to-22.
Rice begins its final road trip of the season next Wednesday, Feb. 22, when it travels to Boca Raton, Fla., to face Florida Atlantic. Tip-off is scheduled for 6 p.m. CT and the game will be livestreamed by CUSA.tv.