HOUSTON, Texas--Marcus Evans scored a career-high 32 points to lead Rice over St. Thomas, 67-54, in front of a raucous School House Mania crowd Thursday afternoon.
Marquez Letcher-Ellis recorded his first career double-double, scoring 10 points and grabbing a career-high 13 rebounds. He also had four steals and three blocks. Andrew Drone had six points and a season-high eight rebounds.
"We had a bunch of days off because of exams," said Rice head coach Mike Rhoades. "We came out and it was a grind, but it was good to get one under our belts; get another win. It was good to get these young guys more time and more experience. We've got a lot to work on and we need to keep improving and get better. I'm just glad we found a way to pull it out."
Rice led, 34-20, heading into the second half. Bryon Makel hit a three-pointer, but Bishop Mency answered with a jumper. Craig Grigsby made a three, and following a Mency turnover, Bridge Lavey tipped-in Grigsby's missed layup to pull the Celts within eight points.
Letcher-Ellis got two straight baskets to push the lead to 12, but a Makel three cut the deficit to nine. Jumper from Connor Cashaw and Evans pushed the lead back to 13, but Evan Doremus followed with a three-pointer.
Rice then went cold. Evans made one-of-two free throws. Makel made a three-pointer and Keaton Shaw made a layup to get St. Thomas within 45-39 midway through the second half. Max Guercy made a pair of free throws, but Grigsby followed with a jumper. Evans then made five-of-six free throws to push the lead back to 11 points.
Grigsby made a layup and Koulechov hit just one-of-two free throws. After Beckham's layup, Koulechov snapped a 10:18 stretch for the Owls without a field goal, driving in for a layup. Bearden made a layup to again get UST to within 56-49 with 2:42 to play. But, Evans scored six straight points put the game out of reach.
Added Rhoades, "We allowed miss shots to affect our next play or our next shot. Mentally today, I thought we were rushing. It was a grind. When it's a grind of a game, possession by possession, slow down. Take it one play at a time, one shot at a time. I think our guys, when we got the lead, thought now we're going to take off. But, the other team wants to win too."
Rice jumped out to an early 5-0 lead 2:15 into the game. However, St. Thomas scored nine straight points over the next 2:21 to take a 9-4 lead. After Guercy hit Letcher-Ellis for a layup to pull the Owls within 9-7, the game remained that way for the next 3:46 before Andrew Drone tied it.
Jason Brancato scored four straight points to give St. Thomas a 13-9 lead. But, Evans hit a three-pointer to send Rice on a 13-2 run and a 22-15 lead with 4:43 to play in the half. Makel got the Celts within five points, but Evans scored 10 of the final 12 points send the Owls into halftime with a 34-20 lead.
Rice was just 21-of-53 (39.6%) from the field and 4-of-25 (16.0%) from three. St. Thomas connected on just 35.0% (21-of-60) from the floor and 32.0% (8-of-25) from three. The Owls held a big advantage from the free throw line connecting on 21-of-37 while the Celts were just 4-of-4.
Rice begins a stretch of five out of six road games this Saturday, Dec. 19, when it travels to Albuquerque, N.M., to face New Mexico. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. CT and will be televised by ROOT Sports Southwest.