March 3, 2012
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HOUSTON - Darian Thibodeaux sank a pair of free throws with 2.7 seconds to play as Houston defeated Rice 76-75 in Tudor Fieldhouse Saturday.
Thibodeaux went to the free throw line after Rice senior Connor Frizzelle was given a technical by the officiating crew for asking for a timeout the Owls did not have. Frizzelle had taken an inbounds pass from Dylan Ennis under the UH goal but stumbled and fell on the corner of the court with the ball in his hands.
"Unfortunate that Connor slips and goes to the floor," said Rice head coach Ben Braun. "Obviously, if we can get him to the foul line with a lead and two free throws that's a pretty good position to be in."
With the loss, Rice fell to 17-14 on the year. At 8-8 in league play, Rice finished seventh in the Conference USA final standings. The Owls will take on East Carolina Wednesday at 12 noon in the first round of the C-USA Tournament which will be played at the FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tenn. The winner of that game will play conference runner-up Southern Miss Thursday at noon.
Houston closed out the year with its third straight win to improve to 15-14 and 7-9. The Cougars are the No. 9 seed and take on No. 8 UTEP Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. with the winner advancing to face regular-season champion and tournament host Memphis.
Thibodeaux's free throws Saturday night erased a Rice comeback from a 13-point deficit early in the second half.
In the final minutes, the Owls scored nine unanswered points to take its first lead of the period.
"I thought we played a very hungry and aggressive team who played very well," Braun said. "I thought our team was equal to the challenge in the second half. We really bounced back, stormed back. We really put ourselves in position to win a game."
Ahmad Ibrahim got the rally started with a jumper at the 3:15 mark to pull the Owls to within five, 73-68.
At the other end of the floor, Rice center Omar Oraby blocked an Alandise Harris shot and grabbed the rebound. Oraby would later convert on two free throw attempts to pull the Owls to within three.
After forcing a Houston turnover on one end of the floor, Arsalan Kazemi scored on the other end off a pass inside from Oraby. Another UH turnover led to a Kazemi layup on a look inside from Ennis. Kazemi was fouled on the play by Harris. His free throw gave Rice a 75-73 lead with 16 seconds to play.
Houston's Jonathon Simmons was fouled driving to the basket in the final seconds. He missed the first free throw attempt but converted the second to make it a one-point game and set up the final play.
Kazemi scored 19 points to lead Rice in scoring for the ninth time this season while Oraby registered his third double-double, scoring 11 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. The 7-2 center also finished with five blocks, adding to his Rice single-season record. Oraby heads to Memphis with 51 blocks this year.
Thibodeaux scored 21 points and had four assists to lead the Cougars while Harris finished with 16 points.
The Owls lost despite shooting 51.9 percent from the field, including a blistering 65 percent in the second half. UH outrebounded Rice 39-30 and made 10 three-point baskets compared to the Owls' four.
The game marked the sixth conference contest this season to be decided in the final seconds. The Owls are now 2-4 in those games. A win Saturday against Houston would have also marked the third time this season and the second time against Houston the Owls had battled back from a double-digit deficit this season.
"It is a sign of our team's character, to be able to battle back possession by possession," Braun said. "Teams are going to have runs. The Houston team has played very well against us on two occasions. We managed to battle back and put ourselves in position to win both games but we just didn't get it done today."