By: Tim Andrzejewski (firstname.lastname@example.org)
HOUSTON, Texas -- Marcus Evans scored 29 points, including 19 in the second half, to lead Rice to a 12-point comeback victory over Florida Atlantic, Thursday night at Tudor Fieldhouse.
Evans was 10-of-17 from the field, two-of-three from three and hit all seven of his free throws. With his performance, he became just the 12th freshman in Conference USA history to score 500 points in a season. His 523 points put him in a tie for ninth with Charlotte's Rodney White (2000-01). He also became just the 20th player in school history, and the first freshman, with 500 points in a season.
Egor Koulechov had 19-points on five-of-seven three-pointers, as well as six rebounds. Andrew Drone scored a season-high 14 points and had a game-high eight boards and Marquez Letcher Ellis scored 10 points. Max Guercy added nine points and nine assists.
"It was a game where I thought we got off to a good start," said Rice head coach Mike Rhoades. "(Florida Atlantic) got into a rhythm, especially from three. They were 15-of-28 from three, but we found a way to win the game. That's a good sign for our guys. I really liked our response in the second half, especially late. We executed on one end and got some stops (on the other). I thought we got some key rebounds at the end. I just thought, down the stretch, we did a good job of executing. We hung in there and found a way."
Rice (10-16, 5-8 C-USA) trailed 49-40 heading into the second half. Drone scored eight of the team's first 10 points in the half. Connor Cashaw then got a steal and a layup to cut the deficit to 54-52 just 4:11 into the half.
The teams traded points and then Letcher-Ellis made one-of-two free throws to cut the deficit to one. Marquan Botley hit a three to push the lead to four, but baskets by Evans and Guercy tied the game at 59.
FAU (7-20, 5-9) responded with a basket, but Evans scored seven straight points, ending with a three-pointer to five Rice the 66-63 lead. Rice got a stop and Letcher-Ellis threw down a dunk of an Evans miss to push the lead to five. Solomon Poole cut the deficit to two, but six straight points gave Rice a 74-66 lead 7:40 to play.
The game stayed around eight points for the next two minutes. With 5:49 remaining and Rice leading 79-71, Florida Atlantic scored eight of the next 11 points over the next 2:46 to make it an 82-79 game.
Evans made two free throws, but Jeantal Cylla hit a three and a minute later, Adonis Filer tied the game at 84 with 1:34 to play. On the ensuing possession, Guercy found Drone down low for a layup. Rice got a stop and Evans made two free throws. After Nick Rutherford made one-of-two free throws, Evans clinched the game with two from the charity stripe.
Rice got off to a strong start, scoring eight of the first nine points. FAU hit three to cut the lead in half, but after Letcher-Ellis made one-of-two free throws, Evans converted a four-point play to give Rice a 13-4 lead 4:11 into the game.
Florida Atlantic scored five straight to bring the deficit back to four, but an Evans layup and a three by Connor Cashaw pushed the lead back out to nine points before the teams traded baskets.
With 12:56 to play and Rice leading 20-11, FAU began to chip away at the lead. On three straight possessions, FAU hit threes while Rice just made two-points, cutting the deficit to 23-20 midway through the half.
Letcher-Ellis made a three and after a jumper from Ronald Delph, Koulechov hit a three to make it 29-22 2ith 9:17 to play. After the teams traded baskets, FAU went on a 24-6 run to take its largest lead, 49-37. But Guercy hit a three right before the half to send Rice into the break down nine.
Added Rhoades, "We're not the most consistent team. We have to, at times, get a run, figure out how to stop their run, and get another run. Offense hasn't been the problem this year. It's been trying to guard people. At least in the second half we guarded a little bit better than the first half and gave ourselves a chance to win the game."
Rice shot 52.5% (32-of-61) from the field and was 10-of-16 (62.5%) from three. Rice was also 16-of-19 (84.2%) from the foul line. Florida Atlantic connected on 53.6% (30-of-56) from the floor and from three (15-of-28). However, FAU was just 10-of-18 from the foul line. Rice also won the rebounding battle, 34-to-25.
Rice concludes the homestand this Saturday, February 20, when it hosts FIU. Tip-off is scheduled for 1 p.m. CT and will be televised by ASN.