BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - One night after putting together a complete game in the Conference USA Championship opener, Rice University men's basketball gave top seed Louisiana Tech all it could handle in the quarterfinal round in a 70-64 setback on Thursday night at Legacy Arena.
Head coach Mike Rhoades said, "It was a great game. It's March and it's that time of year. I absolutely love my players and I love the fight they have. We got down by 15 two different times and we just kept fighting. We had seniors out on the court playing for the last time and you could tell they didn't want it to end. I'm just so proud of Rice, the people I work for and my assistant coaches, and most importantly, these players. We fought all year long and we're trying to change the culture and I think we've done a good job of that in this first year. It was a pretty cool game - we had a lot of people on the edges of their seats in the last couple minutes because we're not going to quit. We're going to keep coming after people."
Senior Seth Gearhart put together a big second half to lead the Owls in scoring with 16 points, including a 9-of-10 mark from the foul line. The second team All-Conference honoree added three rebounds, two assists and a pair of steals in 38 minutes of action.
Fellow senior Dan Peera came through in big spots for the Owls as well with nine second-half points on 4-of-6 shooting. He added two rebounds in 24 minutes off the bench. Playing in his hometown, Van Green also provided a lift in reserve with a second-straight strong game. The graduate student racked up seven points and a team-high seven rebounds with an assist.
After racking up 28 points on Wednesday, Marcus Jackson notched double figures once again with 12 points on 5-of-11 shooting and a pair of three-pointers. The sophomore chipped in three rebounds, two assists and two steals of his own.
LA Tech's (25-7) pressure helped the Bulldogs open the game on a 10-1 run spanning just over three minutes. The Owls showed a glimpse of what would come in the second half as they battled back to within six points late in the period and held the C-USA regular season champion scoreless for a five-minute stretch. The Bulldogs regrouped to take a 35-25 lead into the locker room at the break.
Rice pulled back within single digits early in the second half and clawed within seven points at 46-39 with 13 minutes to play. The Owls hung around that range for the majority of the half before making a late move. Rice pulled within five points with two minutes on the clock and then forced a turnover just seven seconds later to regain possession. The Owls closed to within 65-62 with 1:22 remaining on a Gearhart layup. LT responded on the other end before a Gearhart tip-in closed the gap to 67-64 with 32 seconds to play. On the next trip down the floor, a Rice basket was waved off due to a charge call and the Bulldogs iced the game with two more free throws in the final seconds.
The Owls shot 43.1 percent from the field, 7-of-20 from downtown and 13-of-16 at the foul line. LA Tech attempted 20 of its 23 free throws in the second half and shot 39.7 percent from the field. Rice held the Bulldogs to a 4-of-18 mark from downtown, but it was LA Tech's defensive pressure that made up the difference.
LT scored 25 points off of 17 forced turnovers, including 11 steals. Rice owned a narrow 36-34 edge on the glass, but the Bulldogs turned 11 offensive rebounds into 12 points. LT coughed up the ball just six times in the game, which led to five points for the Owls.
Rice's season comes to a close with a 12-20 mark as the squad matched its win total from the previous two campaigns combined. LA Tech faces host UAB on Friday in the semifinal round. Middle Tennessee squares off with UTEP in the other semifinal.
NOTES: Jackson took over sole possession of second place on Rice's single-season three-point list with 85, just four behind Austin Ramljak's record 89 in 2013-14 ... Gearhart took over 10th place on the list at 69 ... Max Guercy moved up from a tie for sixth to a tie for fifth place in single-season assists with (145).