The final Rice versus Houston game as members of the same conference was a battle, but the end result was one the Owls coaches and players are all to familiar with.
Rice lost for the 26th time this season Wednesday after the cross-town Cougars scored the final seven points of the game in the opening round of the Conference USA Tournament at the BOK Center in Tulsa.
Houston’s 72-67 earned the Cougars (19-11) a date with No. 3 seed UTEP (17-13) in the quarterfinals at 2:30 p.m. CST Thursday.
Depleted by players leaving the program before the season and injuries during it, Rice (5-26) finishes the season with 16 losses in 17 conference games. The No. 11 seed Owls never won a game outside of Tudor Fieldhouse, going 0-11 on the road and 0-4 on neutral courts.
Nonetheless, historically-speaking there have been worse Rice teams. The 2012-2013 squad won more games than a dozen past Owls teams, including the 3-27 team of 2008-2009.
Rice’s only senior, Tamir Jackson, did everything he could to keep his Owls career alive. For the second straight game, he scored 30 points, tying a career high he set Saturday against Tulsa on Senior Day.
Despite finishing fourth in the conference in scoring, Jackson was overlooked by coaches and media voting for the C-USA All-Conference team. The conference honored 16 players on its first through third teams, and Jackson was nowhere to be found.
On Wednesday he just missed a double-double with nine rebounds. He had three assists, a steal and made a trio of 3-point shots. Julian DeBose finished with 13 points while Austin Ramljak added 11 for Rice.
The Owls trailed 36-25 at halftime and were down by 13 three minutes into the second half. A 27-11 Rice run wiped out the deficit completely.
A jumper by Jackson started the run. Jackson also scored the next 10 points for the Owls. His 3-pointer with 14:07 left sliced the UH lead to 45-41. Ramljak later hit a triple to make it a 2-point game and Rice caught up on a Ross Wilson dunk with 11:07 to go.
Another 3-pointer from Ramljak put Rice ahead 54-51. The game seesawed from there with neither team able to build a lead.
Keith Washington gave Rice a 67-65 advantage on a jumper with 2:33 left. Little did the Owls know that it would be the last points of the season. Daniel Houston converted a 3-point play to put Houston in front with 1:47 to go.
DeBose missed a 3-point for Rice. Houston’s Joseph Young missed a 3 as well, but Leon Gibson dunked home the rebound to put UH up 70-67 with 38 seconds left. Washington and DeBose missed shots at the other end and the Cougars put it away by hitting two of four free throws in the last 17 seconds.
TaShawn Thomas led No. 6 seed Houston with 16 points. The Cougars shot 52 percent from the field (28 of 54) compared to 37 percent for Rice (26 of 70). Houston also was good around the rim collecting 31 defensive rebounds and blocking 7 shots. Gibson had four blocks to go with 8 points and 6 rebounds.
Unlike some other games, Rice did the little things well to stay in it. The Owls were 8 of 10 from the line and only committed nine turnovers.
Rice is now 4-8 in the Conference USA tournament game, losing three in a row. Next year’s tournament will be a lot different though as Houston and several other schools will join an unnamed league that used to be the Big East.
This year’s Rice team joins the 1920-1921 team, the 1974-1975 squad and the 1999-2000 players as those that finished with five wins. The team with the least amount of wins is from 1926-1927. That squad didn’t win a single game, though they only played nine.
Here’s the lowest winning season in Rice men’s basketball history:
- 0 wins in 1926-1927
- 1 win in 1965-1966, 1925-1926
- 2 wins in 1964-1965, 1928-1929 1924-1925, 1921-1922
- 3 wins in 2007-2008, 1975-1976, 1923-1924
- 4 wins in 1959-1960, 1918-1919
- 5 wins in 2012-2013, 1999-2000, 1974-1975, 1920-1921