By: Tim Andrzejewski (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Marcus Evans led the Owls with 28 points. It was his eighth 20-point game in the last nine and his 19th of the season. Evans passed Memphis Tyreke Evans to move into third-place among freshman in Conference USA history with 658 points while also moving into third-place on the school single-season scoring list.
"I'm proud of our guys' effort, especially the last 10 minutes of the game," said Rice head coach Mike Rhoades. "We fought to get back in it and had great energy. We were a lot more aggressive. We finally got some consecutive stops to get us back in it. We gutted out some defensive rebounds because they were just killing us on the glass. I'm really proud of our effort, just disappointed that we didn't execute down the stretch."
Rice (12-19, 7-11 C-USA) trailed 57-40 with 12 minutes to play. Connor Cashaw hit two free throws and a three to cut the deficit to 12. After Trey Freeman made a jumper and Evans hit two free throws, Aaron Bacote drilled a three to make it a 62-47 game with 7:30 remaining. That's when Evans took over.
The freshman hit his first three of the game and after a stop Letcher-Ellis got a layup. A minute later, Brandan Stith got a put back dunk to push the lead back to 10. But Evans was fouled on a three-pointer and made all three free throws to cut the deficit to 64-57 with 3:55 to play. A minute later he hit a jumper and after Nik Biberaj missed a jumper, Evans grabbed the rebound and drew a foul, hitting both free throws to make it a one possession game, 64-61, with two minutes to play.
The Owls got another stop and after a missed shot, got the ball underneath its own basket. But Max Guercy's inbounds pass was stolen by Brandan Stith and Freeman hit a three to push the lead to six with a minute to play.
Guercy was then fouled and hit both layups to make it a four-point game. But on the ensuing inbounds play, Jordan Baker got behind Rice's defense for a layup, was fouled and made the free throw to give ODU a 70-63 lead with 41 seconds left.
After the teams traded baskets, Rice got the ball with less than a minute to play. But, Cashaw turned it over and Freeman made two free throws to seal the victory.
The game started off slow, with ODU holding just a 7-4 lead through the first five minutes. A minute and a half later, Trey Freeman hit a three to push the lead to 10-4. But Evans and Egor Koulechov hit back-to-back jumpers to cut the deficit to two.
After the teams traded baskets, the Monarchs scored seven of the next 10 points to take a 19-13 lead with eight minutes to play in the half.
Evans converted a three-play and the teams traded baskets. With the Monarchs leading 21-18 with 6:58 to play, ODU went on a 15-2 run over the next 3:35 to take its largest lead of the half, 36-20.
Guercy hit a three and Bacote answered with a basket. But Rice scored six of the final eight points to head into halftime trailing 40-29.
Rice shot 47.8% (22-of-46) from the field and 81.8% (18-of-22) from the charity stripe but were just 5-of-17 (29.4%) from three. Old Dominion was 27-of-64 (42.2%) and 11-of-25 (44.0%) from three. The Monarch also won the rebounding battle, 36-to-27.
Rice begins the Conference USA Tournament next Wednesday, Mar. 9. The time and opponent are still to be determined and the game will be televised by ASN.