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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Marcus Jackson scored 28 points to lead No. 9 Rice University men's basketball past eight-seed North Texas, 82-54, in the opening round of the Conference USA Championship at Legacy Arena on Wednesday evening. The Owls (12-19) advance to face top seed Louisiana Tech in Thursday's quarterfinal round. Tipoff is set for 8:30 p.m. and the game will air on American Sports Network.
Head coach Mike Rhoades said, "I'm really proud of our guys. I thought we did a good job of sticking to the game plan and carrying some things over that we didn't do the first two times we played into this game. I thought we did a really good job sharing the basketball. We had 17 assists on 29 baskets and we have to play that way and we have to play through each other. Marcus did a really good job making plays down the stretch and helped us with the lead."
Jackson knocked down 10-of-14 attempts from the field with four three-pointers and 4-of-4 free throws on the evening. The sophomore added three rebounds and three assists in 26 minutes of action.
Three other Owls scored in double figures as Seth Gearhart, Van Green and Max Guercy notched 10 points apiece. The tally matched a season-high for Green, a Birmingham native. He connected on 4-of-7 attempts from the field and added six rebounds in 12 minutes of action.
Gearhart hauled in nine of the Owls' 46 rebounds and knocked down a pair of three-pointers with three assists, a block and a steal in 32 minutes. Guercy paced the squad with seven assists to accompany three rebounds and a steal. Andrew Drone came off the bench to sink 4-of-5 attempts for eight points with six rebounds.
The Owls sank five of their first 10 three-point attempts to open a 21-10 lead before the midway point of the first half. The Mean Green then began chipping away at the lead and worked to within 29-26 with four minutes before the half. Rice regrouped to finish the period on a 9-4 run to take a 38-30 advantage into the locker room on 50 percent shooting with six three-pointers.
Rice extended its lead to 47-30 to start the second half while holding North Texas scoreless for the first five and a half minutes of the period. The Mean Green never pulled any closer than 13 points for the remainder of the game as the Owls pushed the lead to as many as 29 points in the latter stages of regulation.
Rice shot 46.8 percent from the field in the game and 11-of-28 from downtown. The Owls converted 13-of-14 free throws as well. The Rice defense held the Mean Green (14-17) to just 28.8 percent shooting and 4-of-21 three-pointers.
Rice scored 20 second-chance points off of 15 offensive rebounds and racked up six fast-break points.
NOTES: Freshman Jeremy Jones made his first start of the season and notched four rebounds, two points and an assist before fouling out ... Jackson moved up from fifth place to a tie for second (Robert Johnson, 1998-99) in the Rice record book for single-season three-pointers, with 83 ... 2014 graduate Austin Ramljak set the record last season with 89 ... Rice snapped a four-game Conference USA Championship skid ... Rice's previous four C-USA tournament wins came by a combined seven points ... the win was the largest margin of victory of the season, topping the previous mark of 15 (vs. UTSA, Jan. 2) ... it was NT's largest loss of the season, topping a 26-point setback at Oklahoma State.