HOUSTON - Rice closed the game on a 15-8 run over the final 4:07 to defeat Louisiana Tech, 88-81, on Senior Day at Tudor Fieldhouse, earning its 20th win of the season.
It is the first 20-win season since 2003-04 and just the eighth in school history.
Marcus Evans scored 26 points, including connecting on 15-of-16 from the free throw line, to become the school's sophomore scoring leader. Egor Koulechov and Marquez Letcher-Ellis each scored 12 points. Marcus Jackson added 11 points and five assists to become the 35th player in school history to score 1,000 points. Connor Cashaw had eight points and a team-high seven rebounds.
"The reason this feels great tonight is because it was a team win," said Rice head coach Mike Rhoades. "So many guys contributed in so many different ways. It wasn't perfect, but it was a lot of fun. Nobody was rattled. Nobody was fighting the game. Everybody was about the team. When it came down to crunch time, they all had each other's backs. Everybody played a good floor game. Yes, guys made shots. But I think they all just played in the moment and were locked in. That really helped."
Rice led 49-48 at the start of the second half. Rice turned the ball over twice as Louisiana Tech took the lead, but Evans hit two free throws and then a three-pointer to give Rice a 54-52 lead. The teams went back and forth over the next seven minutes.
With Rice holding on to a 64-62 lead, the Bulldogs took their first lead of the half on a DaQuan Bracey three midway through the second half. But, Evans hits four straight free throws and Letcher-Ellis made a layup to take a 70-65 lead with 7:29 to play. Erik McCree made one-of-two free throws, but Cashaw drained a three to push the lead to 73-66.
However, La Tech responded, tying the game in just over a minute. But the Owls would be unfazed. Jackson drained a three and then found Letcher-Ellis for a dunk. After a defensive stop, Cashaw hit his second three of the game, giving Rice its largest lead at 81-73 with 2:27 to play and forcing a Louisiana Tech timeout.
A jumper by McCree and a three from Jacobi Boykins pulled La Tech within three points with 1:23 to play. However, the Owls made 7-of-10 free throws the rest of the way to secure the victory.
The game was a back and forth affair from the outset. The Bulldogs hit their first three field goals to take an 8-5 lead. After trading baskets, Koulechov drilled a three to tie the game at 10 just 3:07 into the game. Boykins answered with a three of his own. The teams again traded baskets before Jackson tied the game at 15 with 14:20 to play in the first half.
The teams traded baskets over the next five and a half minutes. With Louisiana Tech leading 30-27, Evans hit a pair of free throws. DaQuan Bracey then hit two and Omar Sherman made a layup to push the La Tech lead to 34-29.
Austin Meyer made two free throws and after a Jalen Harris jumper, Koulechov made two to cut the deficit to 36-33 with 6:27 to play. However, a three-point play by Sherman followed by a three-pointer by Bracey gave the Bulldogs their largest lead of the game, 42-33, with 5:43 to play.
But the Owls would not go away. Four straight free throws by Evans and Ako Adams cut the deficit to five. Bracey made one-of-two free throws and Adams drained a three. Harris got an uncontested dunk, but Letcher-Ellis answered with a three. McCree made a pair of free throws, but Evans hit consecutive three-pointers to give Rice its first lead of the game, 49-47, with 1:56 to play in the half. McCree added a free throw as Rice went into the break leading, 49-48.
Rice shot just 43.9% (25-of-57) from the field but was 44.8% (13-of-29) from three and 86.2% (25-of-29) from the free throw line. Louisiana Tech connected on 30-of-62 (48.4%) and 13-of-25 (52.0%) from three. But the Bulldogs were just 8-of-11 (72.7%) from the charity stripe.
Rice begins its final road trip next Thursday, Mar. 2, when it travels to Huntington, W.V., to face Marshall. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. CT and will be live-streamed by CUSA.tv.