MIAMI, Fla. - Rice University men's basketball erased a 10-point deficit to take a four-point lead over FIU with two minutes remaining in the game as the squad looked for its fourth-straight win in Conference USA play. However, the Panthers' Ray Rodriguez responded with a pair of three-pointers to give the lead back to the home team for good as the Owls suffered a 60-56 setback on Thursday evening at FIU Arena.
Head coach Mike Rhoades said, "Watching the whole game, they deserved to win and we didn't. I thought we might pull it out there in the end. We weren't consistent on defense today and we didn't get stops. You've got to go earn a victory and we didn't do that today. We can't have our guys that play a lot of minutes picking up silly fouls. I can live with aggressive fouls but not these. Our bench is getting better and we've seen that over the last couple weeks."
Reigning Conference USA co-Player of the Week Seth Gearhart notched a second-straight double-double as he led the Owls (9-16, 6-7) with 13 points and 11 rebounds. The 11 boards matched the forward's career high. He shot 4-of-14 from the floor with a pair of three-pointers, and sank all three foul shots in 38 minutes. The senior added two assists, a block and a steal in the effort.
Sluggish shooting hindered the Owls in the early going as FIU worked up to an early nine-point lead. Marcus Jackson scored eight of Rice's first nine points and tallied all 10 of his points in the opening period. The Panthers shot 54.2 percent in the frame to Rice's 38.5 percent to take a 33-27 lead into the locker room.
Jackson finished the night with a 4-of-11 mark from the field and two three-pointers of his own. The sophomore added a pair of rebounds and one assist while battling foul trouble throughout the contest.
The Owls again had a tough time scoring early in the second half as FIU worked up to a 10-point advantage midway through the period at 48-38. From there, Rice used a 15-4 run over the next seven minutes, including seven points from Gearhart, to take its second lead of the game with just under three minutes to play. Max Guercy then tacked on a three-pointer with 2:02 on the clock to give the visitors their largest lead at 56-52. Rodriguez then connected on the go-ahead three-pointers and Kris Gully put the game out of reach with a pair of free throws in the final seconds.
Guercy finished with nine points on 3-of-9 shooting with five of the Owls' 11 assists, three rebounds and a pair of steals in 36 minutes of action. Bishop Mency added seven points on 3-of-6 shooting with three rebounds.
Rice's bench owned a 14-0 scoring advantage over the Panthers (13-13, 6-7), led by six points from Dan Peera on 2-of-2 three-point shooting. The senior added four rebounds and an assist in 23 minutes. Van Green chipped in five points on 2-of-4 shooting in 13 minutes of play.
In all, the Owls shot 37.3 percent from the field and 9-of-32 from beyond the arc with 9-of-15 free throws. FIU converted 42.2 percent of its shots with a 6-of-16 mark from downtown and 16-of-23 from the stripe.
The Panthers held a 34-30 rebounding advantage and converted 10 Owl turnovers into 12 points. Rice forced 11 turnovers but only scored one point from the miscues.
The brief road trip concludes on Saturday as Rice faces Florida Atlantic in Boca Raton. Tipoff between the league's two sets of Owls is set for 6 p.m. CT.