Men’s Basketball wins UH Conference rivalry game
Published: Friday, February 1, 2013
Updated: Friday, February 1, 2013 00:02
The campuses of Rice University and the University of Houston are only separated by 4.6 miles, but considering the directions their respective basketball programs went in this past offseason, that distance felt a whole lot larger.
Much has been written about the exodus of players from the Rice men’s basketball team (5-15, 1-5) from a year ago, with six key contributors from the 2011-12 team leaving the school to pursue other opportunities. Across town, the rival Houston Cougars (13-7, 2-5) brought in one of their top recruiting classes of all time, led by Danuel House, the No. 15 recruit in the nation according to ESPN.
Through their first 19 games, the storylines for the two teams headed in opposite directions. After a loss at Tulane University last Saturday, the Owls dropped to 4-15 overall and 0-5 in Conference USA, while Houston jumped to a 13-6 start in their own conference place. The meeting of these rivals Wednesday night at Tudor Fieldhouse defied all expectations based on records and standings.
The Cougars got out to a quick start in the first half, gaining a 20-7 advantage and leading by as many as 15 points with 6:01 remaining in the first half. The Owls began to trim away at the deficit, as senior Tamir Jackson’s jumper made it a 33-25 Houston lead heading into halftime.
After going just 2 for 14 from the 3-point line in the first half, Rice connected from deep on three of their first four possessions of the second half, capped off by sophomore Julian DeBose’s jumper that cut Houston’s lead to three. The Owls continued to keep the game close with their execution from beyond the arc, including three free throws from junior Austin Ramljak after he was fouled on a 3-point attempt with 12:19 to go.
Houston pounded the ball in the second half, shooting 13 for 26 from the field and converting 18 of 21 attempts from the free-throw line. But the offensive execution by the Owls was too much for Houston to handle. For a team that has struggled to close out games this season (opponents were outscoring the Owls by nearly eight points per second half this year, compared with just three points per first half), Rice picked the perfect time to play its best half of basketball of the year.
The Owls took the lead for the first time since the opening minutes on a jumper by Jackson with 9:40 remaining. Houston took the lead back on a hook shot in the paint with 3:48 left, but Rice took control of the momentum over the next two possessions. First it was freshman Keith Washington, whose 3-pointer from the top of the key put Rice ahead 62-61. After a pair of Houston free throws, it was freshman Max Guercy, the reigning C-USA Freshman of the Week, with a three to put the Owls up by two with 2:45 to go.
Leading 71-64, the Owls went 8 for 10 from the free throw line in the final minutes to clinch the game, winning 79-69 for their first conference win of the season and their fourth win in the last five matchups against their crosstown rivals. Guercy finished with a career high of 21 points, while Jackson had 18 points, six rebounds, and three assists.
“I was happy for our guys because they’ve been knocking on the door,” Head Coach Ben Braun said. “I’m glad to see our guys have the confidence to make plays and get stops and come away with the win.”
Tomorrow the Owls take on East Carolina University at 7 p.m. at Tudor Fieldhouse.