Down by 15 points in the first half Wednesday, the Rice Owls looked to be well on the way to its sixth consecutive Conference USA loss.
But Owls guards Max Guercy and Tamir Jackson weren’t going to let that happen. The duo led the Rice offense to 54 second-half points as the Owls stunned crosstown rival Houston 79-69.
Rice has won four of the last five games in the series.
Guercy, a freshman playing his first game against the Cougars, scored 21 points on seven of nine shooting. Jackson, a senior playing UH for the final time at Tudor Fieldhouse, went for 18 points and collected six rebounds.
“I was proud of our guys; they really stuck with it,” said Rice coach Ben Braun in a post-game news release. “When we were down, I told them not to worry about the offensive end. The way we’ve been shooting lately, I knew opportunities would come, so I wanted them to focus on defense.”
Sitting in last place in the conference, Rice came into the game with a 4-15 record, while Houston was 13-5. The first 14 minutes played out as expected, as the Cougars raced to a 29-14 lead.
Two jumpers by Guercy and four points late in the half by Jackson helped close the gap to 33-25 at halftime.
Made 3-pointers by Rice’s Seth Gearhart and Julian DeBose early in the second half cut the deficit to three points. However, jumpers by Houston’s Joseph Young and J.J. Richardson pushed the lead back to seven.
Rice used a 13-5 run to take its first lead since 3-0, though it was short lived. There were five more lead changes in the second half.
UH got the lead back on two Leon Gibson free throws with 2:59 left. Guercy nailed a 3-pointer 14 seconds later to put Rice up 65-63. After another Gibson free throw, Ross Wilson scored for Rice. Young then missed on the other end, and Wilson swished a jumper to put Rice up 69-64 with 1:21 remaining.
“We challenged ourselves and I thought we really responded to that in the second half tonight,” Braun said.
Jackson and Guercy took it from there, combining to make eight free throws in the last 47 seconds. As a team, Rice hit 21-24 freebies while the Cougars shot 10 of 20 from the line.
After shooting a dismal 31 percent from the field in the first half, the Owls made 15 of 23 shots (65 percent) in the second half. Houston shot 48 percent for the game, but only 26 percent from 3-point land.
Young had 17 to lead UH in scoring, while TaShawn Thomas had a double-double with 15 points and 10 boards.
The 54 points Rice scored in the second half was only six shy of the Owls entire game scoring average coming into the contest. Another really positive stat was turnovers – The Owls had just four for the game.
Here’s the final stats.
Rice (5-15, 1-5) will host East Carolina at 7 p.m. Saturday.