Hunter Leads Rice to 76-70 Victory over UTEP

March 1, 2018

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By: Tim Andrzejewski (

HOUSTON, Texas -- Freshman Najja Hunter scored a career-high 24 points on 10-of-14 shooting as Rice came back from an early deficit to defeat UTEP, 76-70.

The victory snapped a nine-game losing streak to the Miners (10-19, 5-12 C-USA).

Hunter also grabbed five rebounds while connecting on a career-high three, three-pointers. Sophomore Ako Adams had 15 points and five assists and freshman Malik Osborne recorded his third career double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Junior Connor Cashaw added a game-high 12 boards.

"It's nice to be sitting here and be really proud of my guys after a win," said Rice head coach Scott Pera. "I've been telling you all year how proud I am of their preparation, their character and their toughness and tonight it really showed through. We beat a good team that has been playing really well. I'm happy. I'm proud of them. I'm happy we got a win and we'll enjoy it tonight."

The teams traded baskets to open the game. After consecutive baskets by UTEP, Bishop Mency hit a three. But two straight threes gave the Miners a 12-5 lead 5:30 into the game.

The teams traded baskets over the next 2:14 before five straight points gave UTEP its largest lead of the game, 21-13, midway through the first half.

But Hunter began to take over, scoring 10 points in a 15-2 Rice (7-23, 4-13) run. After a UTEP layup, Adams found Dylan Jones for a layup and then Hunter hit his third three-pointer of the half to give the Owls their largest lead of the stanza, 33-25, with 2:12 to play.

UTEP scored four of the next six points, but an Osborne free throw sent Rice into halftime with a 36-29 lead.

The Owls scored the first seven points of the second half to open up its largest lead of the game, 43-29. However, the Miners answered right back with eight straight points to pull within six before a dunk by Osborne and a three by Adams pushed the lead back to 48-37 just 4:10 into the second stanza.

After a three-point play by Matt Willms cut the lead to eight, the teams traded baskets over the next 6:08. Cashaw hit a pair of free throws and after a UTEP layup, Adams made a pair from the charity stripe. The teams traded baskets before a three-pointer by Omega Harris with 4:44 to play cut the deficit to 63-57.

The teams again traded baskets but two straight layups by Hunter pushed Rice's lead to 69-59 with 2:49 to play. The Owls then sealed the game at the free throw line, converting 7-of-10 the rest of the way.

Rice connected on 43.9% (25-of-57) from the field, 34.5% (10-of-29) from three and 64.0% (16-of-25) from the free throw line. UTEP was 28-of-65 (43.1%) from the floor, 8-of-18 (44.4%) from beyond the arc and just 6-of-8 (75.0%) from the line. Rice outrebounded the Miners 42-to-33 and had 16 second chance points to UTEP's eight.

Rice closes the regular season this Saturday, Mar. 3, when it hosts UTSA on Senior Day. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. CT and the game will be livestreamed by ESPN3.





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