HOUSTON, Texas — Marcus Evans’ layup with 1.9 seconds left gave Rice its first lead of overtime and the 72-71 victory over Southern Miss, Thursday night at Tudor Fieldhouse.
With the victory Rice sweeps the season series over the Golden Eagles. Rice improves to 19-9 overall, 9-6 in Conference USA. The nine conference wins are the most since joining C-USA and the most since winning 12 in 2004 in the Western Athletic Conference.
Egor Koulechov led all players with his ninth double-double of the year, scoring 26 points and pulling down 11 rebounds. He became the sixth player in school history to record 500 points in two separate seasons. Evans scored 16 points and pulled down five boards. Marcus Jackson added 10 points and four assists.
“That was an interesting game,” said Rice head coach Mike Rhoades. “We got off to a good start. We were just pulling teeth through the entire second half and even in overtime. But, I liked our fight at the end. It just wasn’t easy. (Southern Miss) had the game, but we found a way.”
The teams entered overtime tied at 67. Rice won the jump ball, but Connor Cashaw turned it over as time was running down on the shot clock. Quinton Campbell gave USM its first lead since leading 18-14 in the first half. Koulechov was fouled, but made just one-of-two free throws. Kevin Holland pushed the lead to three with a jumper, but Koulechov made a driving layup to pull Rice within 71-70 with 2:27 to play.
The score remained that way as Rice missed its next four shots and USM missed its next two. With 14 seconds to play, Evans turned the ball over. However, USM gave it right back four seconds later. With 10 seconds to play, Evans brought the ball up court and drove in for a layup. The basket was good and Evans was fouled with 1.9 seconds to play. Evans purposely missed the free throw and Marquez Letcher-Ellis grabbed the rebound, securing the victory for the Owls.
Rice hit its first two baskets of the game before missing its six of its next eight attempts. With the Owls leading 8-6, Southern Miss went on an 8-2 run to take its largest lead of the half, 14-10, 6:31 into the game. The teams then traded baskets over the next 2:20.
With Rice trailing 18-14, Evans made a pair of free throws and Connor Cashaw made one-of-two. After Koulechov blocked Quinton Campbell’s shot Ako Adams dropped a behind the back pass to him for a three, forcing a Southern Miss timeout. Evans then hit two free throws to cap off a 10-0 run and give the Owls a 24-18 lead with 7:14 to play in the half.
After trading threes, Eddie Davis made a pair of free throws to pull the Golden Eagles to within four. But, Rice went on a 13-2 run to push its lead out to 40-25 before heading into halftime with a 40-29 advantage.
The teams traded baskets over the first three minutes of the second half. With Rice leading 44-33, the Owls scored eight of the next 10 points to take its largest lead of the game, 52-34, with 13:53 to play.
They went back-and-forth over the next three minutes. Rice led 58-43 with 10:54 to play, but that’s when the Owls went cold. Southern Miss went on a 10-2 run to pull to within seven points at 60-53. An Evans jumper pushed the lead back out to nine, but eight straight points made it a one-point game with 5:41 remaining.
Three straight free throws pushed the lead back out to four. Cortez Edwards made it a two-point game, but two Evans free throws gave Rice a 67-63 lead with 3:57 to play. The Owls would not score the rest of the second half, missing its final four shots while turning the ball over twice.
A D’Angelo Richardson jumper cut the lead to two and Edwards tied the game two minutes later. Evans turned the ball over with 20 seconds to play, but USM could not get a shot off, forcing the extra period.
Rhoades added, “It wasn’t pretty. We’re just not consistent enough. But I do like how late in games lately with the clock running down, we’re able to find a way to win. This time of year you have to be able to do that.”
Rice was held to just 39.4% (26-of-66) from the floor and 18.5% (5-of-27) from three. Southern Miss connected on 28-of-63 (44.4%) from the field and 7-of-21 (33.3%) from beyond the arc. Rice was also outrebounded, 42-to-41.
Rice closes its home schedule this Saturday, Feb. 25, when it hosts Louisiana Tech. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. CT and will be live-streamed by CUSA.tv.