By: Tim Andrzejewski (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Freshmen Malik Osborne and Najja Hunter led the Owls, scoring 20 and 17 points, respectively, while grabbing six rebounds apiece. Junior Connor Cashaw had eight points, a game-high nine rebounds and four assists and senior Bishop Mency added seven boards.
FIU (13-16, 7-9 C-USA) started the scoring, but a Hunter three-pointer sent Rice (6-23, 3-13) on a 7-0 run to give the Owls a 7-2 lead four minutes into the game. After an FIU basket, Osborne drilled a three. The Panthers then hit a layup, but Tim Harrison put back consecutive offensive rebounds to give Rice its largest lead of the half, 14-6, with 12:24 to play in the half.
However, the Owls went cold, missing its next 10 shots over the following 7:21, making just two free throws. But FIU was only able to score five points in that span before Cashaw finally broke the streak with a three-pointer to push the lead back to six.
After trading three-pointers, FIU scored nine of the next 12 points to tie the game at 25 with 32 seconds to play. But three Hunter free throws sent Rice into halftime leading 28-25.
Osborne started the second half with a layup, but FIU scored two straight baskets to pull within one. However, the Owls went on a 14-4 run to take its largest lead of the game, 44-33, 5:36 into the second half.
The teams traded points before the Panthers went on a 7-0 run to get within 46-42. Again, the Owls answered, scoring seven of the next nine points, capped off by Ako Adams' three-pointer, to take a 53-44 lead midway through the second stanza.
But the Panthers didn't go away, scoring six straight point to pull within three with 8:12 to play. After trading baskets over the next 1:40, the Owls scored five of seven points to push its lead to 62-55 with 5:06 remaining.
The game stayed that way for the next 2:32 until Hassan Hussein's layup began an 8-0 FIU run to take a 63-62 lead with a minute to play, its first lead since 2-0.
Hunter hit two free throws to regain the lead, but FIU took it right back on a Hussein layup. Mency then missed two three-pointers as FIU held off the Owls.
"(FIU) defended better than us down the stretch," said Rice head coach Scott Pera. "At the end of the day, they deserve all the credit. We shot 32-percent from the field on the road. The fact that the game was this close is a miracle. It's a testament to how hard we played for so long. But we just hit a wall and couldn't make a shot."
Rice was held to 32.2% (19-of-59) from the field and 25.8% (8-of-31). The Owls, however, connected on 81.8% (18-of-22) from the free throw line. FIU was 26-of-56 (46.4%) from the floor and 4-of-18 (22.2%) from three. The teams each grabbed 36 rebounds and FIU outscored the Owls, 20-to-1 off turnovers.
Rice returns home for its final homestand of the year next Thursday, Mar. 1, when it hosts UTEP. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. CT and the game will be livestreamed by FloSports.