HOUSTON - Rice withstood a furious rally from Stephen F. Austin to knock off the Lumberjacks, 70-63, Saturday night at Tudor Fieldhouse.
With the win, Rice has started 7-2 for the first time since the 2003-04 season.
Egor Koulechov scored a game-high 21 points and had nine rebounds to lead the Owls. Marcus Jackson added 11 points. Marcus Evans recorded a career-high nine assists despite being held to just six points.
"We played hard today," said Rice head coach Mike Rhoades. "I thought we guarded and that was huge. I was really excited to see our guys down the stretch, when (Stephen F. Austin) cut into our lead, our guys finished the job."
Rice led 33-32 entering the second half. Austin Meyer hit a layup to start things off for Rice. But, Ivan Canete tied the game with a three and then Dallas Cameron gave SFA the lead hitting one-of-two free throws.
That's when Rice took over. Koulechov hit a jumper to give Rice the lead and then Jackson and Chad Lott hit layups. Leon Gilmore III made it a one possession game. Marquez Letcher-Ellis then made one-of-two free throws to send Rice on a 7-0 run. After a Gilmore basket cut the lead to eight, Letcher-Ellis sent Rice on a 9-0 run, capped off by a Connor Cashaw three that gave Rice its largest lead of the game, 57-40, with 9:00 minutes to play.
But, the Lumberjacks would not go away. Canete and T.J. Holyfield made two quick baskets. After Koulechov made a pair of free throws, Holyfield converted a three-point play and after a Letcher-Ellis turnover, Canete drilled a three to cut the deficit to nine. Andrew Drone hit a pair of free throw, but SFA went on an 11-4 run to cut the lead to 65-61 with 1:17 remaining. However, five straight points by Evans and Jackson clinched the game for the Owls.
SFA scored the first four points of the game. Koulechov got the Owls on the board with two free throws. After SFA hit a jumper, Koulechov made a three. The teams then traded three-pointers. A minute and a half later, Canete made a layup, but Koulechov tied the game with a three. The Lumberjacks regained the lead on a Leon Gilmore III jumper, but Cashaw hit a three to give Rice its first lead of the game, 14-13, 6:27 into the game.
The Owls then ran out to a 12-1 run over the next 3:56, taking its largest lead of the half, 23-14. However, Rice hit just one of its next five shots and turned the ball over five times as SFA used a 16-4 run over the next 6:21 to take a 30-27 with 3:17 to play.
Lott scored four quick baskets to give Rice the lead. Kevon Harris then hit a jumper. But with less than a minute to go, Evans found Robert Martin under the basket for a layup to send Rice into halftime with a 33-32 lead.
Rice shot 49.0% (24-of-49) from the field and 36.8% (7-of-19) from three. SFA was 25-of-54 (46.3%) from the floor but just 4-of-17 (23.5%) from behind the arc. Rice was outrebounded, 32-to-30, and added 18 assists.
Rice closes its homestand next Thursday, Dec. 15, when it hosts St. Edward's in the annual Kid's Day game. Tip-off is scheduled for 11:45 a.m. CT and will be live-streamed at CUSA.tv.