A game with 21-lead changes Wednesday at Marshall University came down to a 3-point play and clutch free throws.
The Thundering Herd made 10 of 11 free throws down the stretch and hit the biggest shot of the evening to escape Rice’s upset bid.
The Owls (5-19) were in position to win its second Conference USA game of the season. Julian DeBose’s 3-pointer with 1.8 seconds left trimmed Marshall’s lead to 71-70. That turned out to be the final score as DeAndre Kane took the inbounds pass and threw the ball high into the air before the Owls could foul.
“I wish we had a few more seconds on the clock and had a chance at the end of the game with a possession to go to knock down a shot,” said Rice coach Ben Braun in the postgame news conference. “But our guys did battle. For us to put five guys in double figures with 16 assists and eight turnovers against a team that pressed us the entire game, (shows) our team fought pretty well.”
One of the four Owls in double figures was junior guard Austin Ramljak (15 points, 7 rebounds). His jumper put the Owls up 59-56 with 5:17 to go. Dennis Tinton hit a pair of shots for Marshall, before the Owls went back ahead on a Ross Wilson bucket with 3:53 left. It will be the Owls final lead of the night.
Marshall (11-14, 4-6) looked to put the game away after four Niger Sparks free throws and D.D. Scarver’s 3-pointer, but Keith Washington hit a pair of big shots to keep Rice within 2 points. The freshman from Philadelphia recorded 10 points and five assists.
“I thought Keith had his best game of the year,” Braun said.
With the clock under a minute and Marshall up 67-65, the Herd melted the shot clock. Rice abandoned its usual zone defense and opted to play the possession man-to-man.
“We were thinking about a foul at that point,” Braun said. “We thought that maybe you give up one for two and then we had a couple come down, but we didn’t want so much time to come off of the clock.”
When Marshall coach Tom Herrion saw the defensive switch, he called a play where Kane drives to the hoop. Kane had not scored a basket all night, but this time he got to the rim, hit the shot and was fouled by Wilson.
“We held and ran clock and went with about twelve on the shot clock,” Herrion said. “We like to run that play often versus man to man, but we would not if they were to stay in the zone. Nigel did a great job with the screen, he is so good at that, and of course Kane finishing and making the free throw was big for us.”
Despite the setback, Rice hopes to break through for the team’s first road win of the season Saturday at UAB.
“To go on the road to Marshall and have a chance to win in the final few possessions really shows that our team is improving,” Braun said.