Despite an up-and-down year, scoring has been one thing the Rice University men’s basketball team has done consistently throughout this season. Yet again, on Saturday night, the Owls showcased their offensive firepower. Freshman guard Marcus Evans starred as the Rice University men’s basketball team won a shootout against the University of North Texas Saturday night at Tudor Fieldhouse by a score of 95-87. Evans, the leading freshman scorer in the country, poured in 25 points to lead the Owls to their seventh victory and earn his fifth Conference USA Freshman of the Week award. According to Evans, the Owls’ offensive success was a product of their confidence.
“We knew shots were going to fall,” Evans said. “The guys got confidence and we started to build off the energy and next thing you know everyone’s in the zone.”
Compared to the second half, the first half was relatively tame. The teams traded leads for the first few minutes. North Texas held a 21-19 edge with 10 minutes to play in the half before Rice went on an 11-0 run to go up by nine, 30-21. Immediately, however, the Mean Green responded with a 12-2 run to retake the lead. Yet again, the advantage would not last. Rice hit six free throws over the last two minutes of the half to give itself a 40-37 lead heading into the break. It was the Owls’ first halftime lead since Dec. 17.
The offensive showcase began early in the second half. Just over two minutes into the period, Rice had built its lead to nine points behind 3-pointers by freshman guard Connor Cashaw and sophomore forward Egor Koulechov. Koulechov scored 11 of his 19 points in the second half and received high praise from his coach after the game. Head Coach Mike Rhoades said the sophomore forward deserved a lot of credit for the Owls’ victory.
“I thought [Koulechov] played the best game of his career here,” Rhoades said. “In other games, he scored a lot of points. I just think that what he did on both ends of the floor was big time. He had some great defensive possessions that don’t show up on the stat sheet.”
After taking the nine-point lead, the Owls never looked back. Rice shot 64 percent from the field in the second half. While North Texas shot over 65 percent in the second half, Rice managed to answer nearly every one of their baskets. The Owls’ edge fluctuated between four and 12 for the remainder of the game as the teams went up and down the floor, seemingly scoring at will. However, it was Rice’s free-throw shooting that closed out the win as they shot 14 of 15 from the line over the final four minutes to keep the Mean Green from mounting a comeback. Rhoades said he was happy the Owls managed to get a victory despite the strong performance by their opponents.
“That was a true gut-check game for us,” Rhoades said. “I’m glad these guys had some success tonight. We scored a lot of transition baskets and I thought we had some timely stops. That was huge. I’m really proud of our guys [for] stepping up.”
The win was the Owls’ seventh consecutive game scoring 70 or more points. Despite the high scoring, their record in those games is only 2-5. Rice will look to improve that record this week as they host two Conference USA rivals, Louisiana Tech University and the University of Southern Mississippi. According to Evans, these home games should give the Owls an opportunity to gain some momentum.
“We’ve had a lot of road games in conference so far,” Evans said. “I think this home stretch will give us a chance to get our feet under us and get running. Once we get a few wins under our belt, we’ll be all right.”
The game against the Bulldogs will take place on Thursday at 7 p.m. and the matchup with the Golden Eagles will be on Saturday at 7 p.m. Both games are at Tudor Fieldhouse. The Owls have 10 more games remaining before they travel to Birmingham, Ala. to compete in the Conference USA Tournament.