By Kenny Bybee (firstname.lastname@example.org)
HOUSTON - Rice sophomore Shani Rainey poured in a career-high 26 points and junior Maya Hawkins contributed another 25 points to help lead the Owls to an 84-77 victory over the Louisiana Tech Lady Techsters Saturday afternoon in the home finale at Tudor Fieldhouse.
The Owls (8-19, 7-9) won their fourth game in their last five contests and in the process, secured a first round bye at the C-USA Championships, which will now take place for Rice beginning Wednesday, March 9 in Birmingham, Ala.
Rainey surpassed her previous career-high of 22 points by making 10-of-13 shots from the field (6-of-8 at the free throw line) while also contributing 6 rebounds and a team-best 5 assists in 37 minutes of action. Not to be outdone, Hawkins added to the one-two scoring punch by making 8-of-13 field goal attempts, including 3-of-5 from deep, and was a perfect 6-of-6 at the charity stripe.
Rice scored nearly half their points in the paint (40) and outscored LA Tech (14-13, 9-7) in points off turnovers (22-20), second chance points (12-8) and fast break points (6-0). The Owls, whose 84 points were their second-most this season, shot a season-best 53 percent (28-of-53) from the field as a team and went an extraordinary 23-of-28 (82 percent) from the free throw line.
Saturday marked the final home game for seniors Elena Gumbs, Alyssa Lang and Megan Palmer, all of whom were honored with a pre-game ceremony.
"This was a really hard fought game by both teams. They're a great team and well-coached," Rice head coach Tina Langley said of the Lady Techsters. "But I'm so proud of our team for how we fought and came back from the last game. Our intensity and execution was much better today. Most importantly I want to give a huge thank you to our seniors. They've been phenomenal for us, not just on the court but as leaders for our team. To get a win for them means a lot."
Unlike in Thursday's loss to Southern Miss, the Owls started fast in the opening quarter by thanks to an 11-point outburst from Rainey in the game's first 10 minutes. Rice scored 16 points in the paint in the first quarter alone while committing only two turnovers to take a 20-16 lead after one.
Rice proceeded to have their best offensive quarter of the afternoon in the second period, scoring 24 points on 57 percent shooting and capitalizing at the free throw line by making 7-of-8 attempts. Hawkins scored 8 points in the quarter while sophomore Wendy Knight added another 7 points. The Owls closed the half in style by creating a turnover which resulted in a Hawkins made jumper as time expired to take a 44-36 advantage into halftime.
In the third quarter the Lady Techsters made run led by guard Brooke Pumroy and forward Brandi Wingate. The two combined to score 14 points in the third quarter and the Lady Techsters tied the game at 59-59 with 1:22 left in the period. However, Rice carried some momentum into the fourth by scoring the final five points in the period on a three-pointer from Hawkins and pair of made free throws from Jasmine Goodwine.
Rice freshman Gabrielle Stanton gave the Owls a boost off the bench to start the fourth quarter, scoring five quick points to push the lead back to 73-63 with 5:59 left to play. LA Tech tried to rally late and a Pumroy three-pointer with 27 seconds remaining gave her a game-high 27 points and trimmed the Rice lead to 80-77.
However, Rice would not relinquish the lead, knocking down their final four free throws to seal the victory and avenge their 63-61 loss earlier in the month on Feb. 4 to the Lady Techsters in Ruston.
The Owls will next close out their regular season schedule on a road trip which first takes them to Charlotte on Thursday, March 3, followed by the finale on Saturday, March 5 at Old Dominion.