By: Tim Andrzejewski (email@example.com)
Graduate guard A.J. Lapray recorded his first career double-double scoring 16 points and grabbing a career-high 10 rebounds. Sophomore forward Austin Meyer scored a career-high 14 points and senior guard Bishop Mency pulled down a career-high 11 boards.
"I'm incredibly proud of the team," said Rice head coach Scott Pera. "They made winning plays down the stretch to separate themselves and win the game. I'm really proud of the group that was on the floor. They played together (and) they communicated at a high level. St. Thomas played a great game. We were fortunate to come out with a win and obviously excited and happy about it."
Rice (2-4) entered the second half leading 35-30. St. Thomas scored eight of the first 10 points of the half to take its first lead, 38-37, just 3:21 into the second stanza. After trading baskets, Meyer got a dunk and Tim Harrison made one of two free throws to take a two-point lead. The teams then traded 5-0 runs, as Rice led 47-45 with 11:10 to play.
However, Rice missed its next five shots while turning the ball over three times. The Celts took advantage, scoring eight straight points to take its largest lead of the game, 53-47, with 7:21 remaining
That's when Miles Lester took over. After a Mency dunk, Lester, who was subbing for Ako Adams who was on the bench with four fouls, made four straight free throws while creating two turnovers. Meyer then made a free throw, and Lapray, who stole the ball from Bryon Makel, hit Lester for an open three, capping off a 10-0 run and giving Rice a 57-53 lead.
Makel made a layup and after a Mency free throw, UST cut the deficit to one point with 3:14 left. But, the Owls made 10 consecutive free throws to close the game and preserve the victory.
Added Pera, "We didn't panic, which is the best thing. For a young group, that's a really good sign. I thought we kept our composure. We did a good job defensively and caused some tough shots. We got some big rebounds and guys made free throws. We made winning plays and that was the difference down the stretch."
Rice got out to a fast start as Lapray hit a three and Adams and Robert Martin made layups to take a quick 7-0 lead and force a UST timeout just 1:50 into the game. After St. Thomas got on the board, Malik Osborne and Mency pushed the Owls' lead to nine. However, the Celts hit four straight three-pointers, cutting the deficit to 18-16 midway through the first half.
Rice went on a 12-2 run over the next 5:53 to take its biggest lead of the game, 30-18. But, the Owls missed their next six shots as UST scored 10 straight points to pull within 30-28 with 2:16 to play.
Lapray stopped the run with his third three-pointer of the half and Adams made of a pair of free throws. But, Makel's jumper as time expired sent Rice into halftime with a five-point lead.
Rice connected on just 36.0% from the field and 23.8% from three. However, the Owls were 29-of-38 (76.3%) from the charity strip. St. Thomas was 37.7% from the floor and 31.3% from three while connecting on just 3-of-4 from the free throw line. Rice also outrebounded the Celts, 47-to-31.
Rice goes back on the road next Wednesday, Nov. 29, when it travels to Arlington to face UT-Arlington. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. CT and the game will be livestreamed on ESPN3.