By: Tim Andrzejewski (firstname.lastname@example.org)
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Rice closed the game on a 25-12 run over the final 8:27 to earn an 86-75 victory over Southern Miss in the first round of the MetroPCS Conference USA Tournament from Legacy Arena.
The Owls will take on fourth-seed UTEP in the quarterfinals tomorrow at 2 p.m. The game will be televised on ASN.
Rice improves to 22-10 on the year. The 22 wins tie the third-most in school history.
Marcus Evans led all players with 26 points. Marcus Jackson tied a season-high with 20 points while grabbing five rebounds. Egor Koulechov recorded his 12th double-double of the year with 17 points and 12 rebounds and Connor Cashaw added nine points.
"We found a way today," said Rice head coach Mike Rhoades. "Southern Miss played tough and we did a good job of adjusting. We made some mistakes in the first half but turned things around in the second half. We were fast and aggressive and I was really proud of how they played down the stretch."
Rice led, 37-35 at the break. Koulechov opened the second half with two free throws, but five straight points from Cortez Edwards gave USM a 40-39 lead. A layup by Evans followed by a three from Jackson gave Rice a four point lead, but the Golden Eagles answered with five straight of its own. After a three from Koulechov, Quinton Campbell got a layup to tie the game at 47, 5:10 into the second stanza.
Koulechov made two free throws and Chad Lott made a jumper, but USM took the lead on five straight points. Koulechov then hit a three to send the Owls on an 8-2 run to take a 59-54 lead. However, Southern Miss scored nine of the next 11 points to go in front, 63-61, with 8:35 to play.
Two free throws by Evans and Lott gave Rice a 65-63 lead. Southern Miss tied it with a jumper, but Cashaw gave Rice the lead with a three-pointer. Campbell cut the deficit to one on a jumper. That's when the Owls' free throw shooting took over. After Evans hit a three, Evans made six straight free throws to push the lead to 77-67 with 3:20 to play.
A three by Campbell cut the lead to seven. However, the Owls hit nine of its final 12 from the charity stripe to seal the victory.
Southern Miss came out of the gate fast, hitting seven of its first nine shots as it jumped out to a 16-6 lead just 5:06 into the game. However, five straight Rice three-pointers gave Rice a 15-4 run over the next 4:23 gave Rice its first lead of the game at 21-20.
But, the Owls turned the ball over seven times as Southern Miss went on a 10-2 run to take a 30-23 lead with 4:50 to play. After Evans hit a three, Edwards made a jumper and Raheem Watts hit one-of-two free throws. But Rice responded as two straight baskets by Jackson sent Rice on an 11-2 run to close the half and send them into the break leading 37-35.
Rice shot 46.8% (22-of-47) from the floor and 44.8% (13-of-29) from three. The Owls also connected on 90.6% (29-of-32) from the foul line. Southern Miss was held to just 27-of-64 (42.2%) from the field and 7-of-24 (29.2%) from three. Rice outrebounded the Golden Eagles, 41-to-24.