March 11, 2014
EL PASO, Texas – Rice University men’s basketball had chances to win in regulation and again in overtime, but neither buzzer-beater fell through as the Owls dropped a 63-62 decision to North Texas in the Conference USA Championship opening round game.
North Texas (16-15) erased a seven-point deficit in the last two minutes of regulation, capping the comeback with a pair of free throws to tie with just 23 seconds left in the half. The Owls took the final possession, but a jumper bounced off the rim to send the game to overtime.
In the extra frame, the Owls (7-23) worked up to a four-point lead over the first three minutes to momentarily take control of the action. NT then knocked down a three-pointer to cut it to one point with 1:38 on the clock. Rice then missed four free throws over its next two possessions before Chris Jones put the Mean Green ahead for good with a pair of foul shots with 11 ticks left. As the clock wound down, freshman Marcus Jackson made his way into the paint for a short jumper that went in and back out of the rim at the buzzer, securing the team’s fate.
In his final game in the Blue and Gray, senior Austin Ramljak led Rice with 17 points on five three-pointers. He played 38 minutes and added five rebounds with two assists and a steal. He extended his single-season three-point record to 89 treys and took over seventh place on Rice’s career three-point list with 161 in just two seasons, passing Rodney Foster (2005-09).
Newly minted C-USA All-Freshman team member Sean Obi added 12 points on 4-of-9 shooting and hauled in a team-high nine rebounds. He sank all four free throw attempts and swiped one steal in 33 minutes of action. He set a new freshman rebounding record for Rice with 279 boards. Obi also concludes his rookie campaign tied for the freshman record in field goal percentage, at 59.1.
Seth Gearhart also tallied double figures with 11 points on 3-of-6 three-point shooting. The junior added three rebounds and an assist in 34 minutes. Jackson chipped in nine points with four of the squad’s 11 assists and three rebounds.
Rice led throughout the first half, including a 13-point margin late in the frame, and took a 30-21 lead into the intermission. North Texas responded with a 20-9 run out of the break and eventually regained the lead. The teams tied five times and exchanged the lead five times as well.
The Owls shot 35.2 percent from the field with 10-of-23 three-pointers and an insufficient 14-of-30 from the foul line. North Texas connected on 33.9 percent of its shots and owned a 45-38 advantage on the glass. Rice scored 15 points off of 12 NT turnovers and held an 11-9 lead in bench points.
North Texas’ Brandan Walton led his team with 17 points and all four of the team’s three-pointers while Jordan Williams converted a double-double with 11 points and 14 rebounds.
The Mean Green advance to face seventh-seeded Tulane on Wednesday in the tournament’s second round. Rice loses Ramljak and forward Bahrom Firozgary to graduation.