MOBILE, Ala. —South Alabama closed the game on a 7-0 run to break a 67-67 tie as Rice saw its three-game win streak snapped, falling 74-67, Tuesday night at the Mitchell Center.
Marcus Evans scored a game-high 22 points, had seven rebounds, three assists and three steals. Egor Koulechov added 19 points and a team-high eight boards.
USA (5-6) led, 32-29 at the half. Evans tied the game with a three but Georgi Boyanov hit a jumper for the Jaguars. Evans tied the game again with a layup, but Boyanov answered with a three. Marquez Letcher-Ellis got the Owls (5-7) within one, but five straight points by South Alabama gave them a 42-36 lead 4:29 into the second half.
After a steal by Max Guercy, he got the ball to Letcher-Ellis for an uncontested dunk. USA turned it over again and Evans drove in for a layup to make it a two-point game.
The teams traded baskets before Shaq Calhoun made a three to push the lead to 49-44 with 12:12 to play. Evans found Koulechov at the free throw line, and the sophomore drove in for a layup. After a steal by Evans, Guercy hit Letcher-Ellis for a dunk. Nikola Marijan made a jumper before Connor Cashaw tied the game at 51 with a three-pointer with 8:34 to play. However, answered with a three of his own.
After a turnover by Cashaw, Boyanov drove in for a layup, was fouled by Koulechov, and hit the free throw. Nick Stover then hit a three to give South Alabama its largest lead of the second half, 60-51, with 6:19 to play.
Three-pointers by Koulechov and Cashaw cut the deficit to three. Boyanov’s layup pushed the lead to five points, but Koulechov made three consecutive free throws to make it a two-point game. Layups by Boyanov and Tafari Whittingham pushed the lead to six. But, Evans answered with a three.
The teams traded free throws. After Stover turned the ball over, Cashaw converted a three-point play to tie the game at 67 with 1:02 to play.
However, Whittingham immediately hit a jumper to give USA the lead. Evans drove to the basket but his scoop shot was too high and the Jaguars got the rebound. Letcher-Ellis fouled out, sending Ken Williams to line, who hit one-of-two. Mency then airballed a three and Guercy fouled Calhoun who hit both free throws. Evans layup attempt was blocked and Stover sealed the victory with a dunk.
Rice started out well. After two South Alabama free throws, Koulechov hit a three. Bishop Mency then stepped in front of a Barrington Stevens pass and went in for a dunk. USA turned it over again and Max Guercy found Koulechov for a layup. The Jaguars got two more free throws, but Guercy again found Koulechov for a layup and a 9-4 Rice lead 3:10 into the game.
But, Rice went cold, missing 14 of its next 16 shots, as the Jaguars went on a 16-4 run to take a 20-13 lead. Guercy cut the deficit to five with a pair of free throws, but five straight points by USA gave it its largest lead of the game, 25-15, with 8:55 to play in the first half.
Evans made one-of-two from the charity stripe. After the teams traded baskets, Evans scored five straight points and Koulechov made a jumper to cut the deficit to 27-25 with 3:37 remaining. Calhoun and Evans traded buckets. Don MuepoKelly made one-of-two free throws and Stover got a layup. But Evans pulled the Owls to within 32-29 at the break.
Rice was held to just 39.7% (25-of-63) from the field and 30.4% from three. South Alabama shot 53.8% (28-of-52) from the floor, including 59.3% in the second half, and 46.7% (7-of-15) from three. The Jaguars also outrebounded Rice, 39-of-29.
Rice closes non-conference play next Tuesday, Dec. 29, when it hosts in-state foe Incarnate Word. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. CT.