HOUSTON, Texas --After pulling to within three points, Rice went just 2-of-17 in the final ten minutes as the Owls fell to Incarnate Word, 82-76, Tuesday night at Tudor Fieldhouse.
Egor Koulechov recorded his third double-double of the year, scoring 19 points and grabbing a season-high 17 rebounds. Marcus Evans scored 18 points and Max Guercy added a season-high 17 points and five assists.
"It was a tough game for all 40 minutes," said Rice head coach Mike Rhoades. "A couple of times we got in some decent rhythms offensively. But we could just never put stops together. We did a poor job on the defensive end in making them take tough shots. We gave them too many open shots and (they had) too much comfort with the ball. They really torched us on the defensive end."
Incarnate Word (5-6) led 42-40 at halftime. The Cardinals outscored 14-5 to open the second half and take a 56-45 lead. Guercy converted a three-point play but Kyle Hittle answered with a three-pointer. Andrew Drone made one-of-two free throws, but Hittle made another three to give UIW its largest lead of the game at 62-49 with 14:08 to play.
Rice (5-8) then went on a 13-2 run to pull within 65-62. The teams then traded layups as Rice trailed just 67-64 with 9:22 to play. But, the Cardinals went on an 11-2 run over the next 5:37. Rice answered with an 8-0 run to pull within 78-74 with 47 seconds remaining. But, the Owls would get no closer.
Rice came out and grabbed an early 6-0 lead in the first minute and a half. But a three-pointer from Derail Green sent the Cardinals on a 7-0 run to take a 7-6 lead. Bishop Mency and Evans hit back-to-back three's to give the Owls a 12-7 lead. But five straight points from Shawn Johnson tied the game at 12, five minutes into the game.
Evans made a layup, but three-pointers from Mitchell Badillo and Johnson gave Incarnate Word an 18-14 lead. After Connor Cashaw made a pair of free throws and Green made a jumper, Cashaw found Andrew Drone for a dunk that sent Rice on a 9-0 run to take a 25-20 lead with 8:40 to play in the half. However, UIW came right back, going on a 10-2 run over the next 2:45 to take a 30-27 lead.
Koulechov made a pair of free throws, but Kyle Hittle made a driving layup. Evans then found Marquez Letcher-Ellis for a dunk. But, six straight points gave Incarnate Word its largest lead of the half, 38-31, with 3:28 remaining.
After the teams traded baskets, Cashaw made a jumper and Guercy hit a three-pointer. Green pushed the lead back to four with a layup, but Evans made a pair of free throws to pull the Owls to within 42-40 at the break.
Added Rhoades, "You let a team come in here and score 82 points and shoot 51-percent, you're putting yourself in a tough position. We're scoring the ball but we're not defending this season. Until we get better at that it's going to be a long road. But, we just have to keep fighting and keep getting better."
Rice connected on 42.4% (25-of-59) from the field and just 32.0% (8-of-25) from three-point range. Incarnate Word was 29-of-57 (50.9%) from the floor and 12-of-20 (60.0%) from three. The Owls connected on 78.3% (18-of-23) from the free throw line and outrebounded UIW, 42-to-31.
Rice opens its Conference USA slate this Friday, Jan. 1, when it travels to El Paso to face UTEP. Tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m. CT and will be televised by ASN.