ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Rice University men's basketball used a 28-11 run to erase a 15-point second-half deficit against Mercer and eventually forced overtime against the Bears before falling, 77-71, in the opening round of the Great Alaska Shootout on Thursday evening at the Alaska Airlines Center. The Owls advance to the consolation bracket with a 5 p.m. CT contest against Washington State on Friday.
After converting on its first possession in the extra period, Mercer (3-2) went on to score 12 of its final 14 points at the free throw line to fend off the Owls (1-3). Rice kept it within a two-possession reach by sinking eight foul shots of its own in the overtime period, but the team could never regain a lead down the stretch.
Seth Gearhart led the team with 15 points and five rebounds in 41 minutes of action. The senior connected on 3-of-6 three-pointers and added an assist and a block on the night.
Two other starters notched double-figure points as Max Guercy tallied 13 points with three treys of his own before fouling out, and Marcus Jackson matched the 13 points to accompany five assists and four rebounds in 39 minutes of action.
While Guercy battled foul trouble throughout the game, Dan Peera made the most of his 18 minutes on the floor. The senior scored a career-high eight points for the second-straight game, including an acrobatic layup on a three-point play and a clutch three-pointer during the Owls' run. He also swiped two steals late in the game and dished out a pair of assists.
Andrew Drone came on strong down the stretch for Rice with all nine of his points coming after halftime. The sophomore center knocked down all five free throw attempts and grabbed four rebounds in the effort. He finished one point shy of his season and career best.
Rice got a strong start and jumped out to an early lead in the game, holding Mercer without a field goal for the first six minutes of action. After the Bears fought back to take a narrow 33-28 lead into the intermission, the team kept momentum rolling after the break to score the first seven points of the second half and open a double-digit lead.
After the Owls fell into the hole, the team knocked down nine of its final 13 shot attempts in regulation to spark the run. On the night, Rice shot 36.8 percent from the field with 10-of-29 three-pointers and 19-of-27 free throws.
Mercer took advantage of its 44 free throw attempts on 31 Rice fouls to score 31 points at the foul line, led by Jibri Bryan's 11-of-13 effort. The Bears also owned an advantage on the glass with 38 rebounds to the Owls' 29 and a 17-3 edge in second-chance points. Rice pulled eight steals and converted 15 turnovers into 13 points.
Bryan scored 20 points while Ike Nwamu led his squad with 21 points, including an 8-of-10 mark at the free throw line.
The Owls are back in action on Friday to face UCSB or Washington State in the consolation bracket at 5 p.m. CT. Mercer moves on to the semifinal round.