By: Tim Andrzejewski (firstname.lastname@example.org)
HOUSTON, Texas -- Marcus Evans scored 12 of Rice's final 15 points as the Owls closed the game on a 15-4 run to defeat San Francisco 85-76 and advance to the quarterfinals of the College Basketball Invitational, Wednesday night at Tudor Fieldhouse.
Rice will host Utah Valley on Monday night at 7 p.m.
The Owls improve to 23-11 on the year. The 23 wins are tied for the second-most in school history and the most since 1953-54.
Egor Koulechov recorded his 13th double-double of the year with game-highs of 24 points and 11 rebounds. Marcus Evans scored 21 points and Chad Lott had 10. Marquez Letcher-Ellis added with points and seven rebounds.
"I was really proud of our guys," said Rice head coach Mike Rhoades. "This is a great tournament and I'm really appreciative of being in it. We made plays down the stretch. They did a great job guarding late in the game."
The game was tied at 35 at the start of the second half. San Francisco scored nine of the first 12 points of the half to take its largest lead of the game, 46-38, just four minutes into second stanza. But Rice answered with its own 9-3 run, capped off by a Koulechov three to pull within 49-47 just 1:46 later.
Chase Foster hit a three to push the lead to five, but a layup from Austin Meyer followed by a pair of Koulechov free throws cut the deficit to one. After Frankie Ferrari hit two free throws, the Dons missed seven straight shots as Rice ran out to a 13-0 run to take its largest lead of the half, 64-54, with 10:38 to play.
But USF would not back down. After a Ronnie Boyce layup, Ferrari hit a three. Koulechov then made two free throws. The teams traded baskets. Jimbo Lull made two free throws, but Letcher-Ellis followed with a layup. However, Rice turned the ball over three times in its next five possessions as San Francisco scored nine straight to take a 72-70 with 2:38 to play.
That's when Evans took over. The sophomore hit a three to give Rice a one-point lead. USF regained the lead on two Boyce free throws. Evans hit another three with 1:39 to play. Matt McCarthy tied the game with a layup, but Evans drained his third straight three-pointer to give Rice a 79-76 lead with 45 seconds remaining.
Boyce missed a three and Evans grabbed the rebounds, went coast-to-coast for the layup, was fouled and converted the three-point play, scoring 12 straight points for the Owls. Koulechov iced the game, hitting three-of-four free throws.
USF scored the first basket of the game, but missed its next 10 shots as Rice went on an 11-0 run to take an 11-2 lead five minutes into the game. However, the Dons scored 11 of the next 16 points to pull within 16-13.
After trading baskets, the Owls scored six straight points. USF got back-to-back baskets, but a jumper by Chad Lott followed by a Koulechov three forced USF to call a timeout with Rice leading, 29-19 with 7:37 to play. USF answered with a three, but Rice scored six of the next eight points to take its largest lead of the game, 35-24 with 4:02 remaining in the half.
But, the Owls went cold, missing its final seven shots of the half, as USF closed the half on an 11-0 run to send the game into the break tied at 35.
Rice connected on 50.9% (29-of-57) from the field, 42.1% (8-of-19) from three and 86.4% (19-of-22) from the foul line. San Francisco was just 28-of-79 (35.4%) from the floor and 7-of-37 (18.9%). The Dons won the rebounding battle, 42-to-40.