Rice basketball avenged a prior controversial road loss, rallying from a 20-point deficit to knock off UTEP on the road and setting themselves up well in CUSA pod play.
The continuously unpredictable Rice basketball season took another strange turn in the desert on Saturday night. Visiting UTEP for the first time since losing in controversial fashion in the final seconds earlier this season, Rice hoped they’d play to a much different result in the rematch.
Things couldn’t have looked much different. Rice trailed 37-20 at halftime and the hopes of a close finish seemed all but forgotten. The Miners’ lead would climb to 20 in the second half. Ako Adams would leave the game. Jack Williams fouled out. But when things looked bleakest, the Owls fought back.
The 20-point deficit turned into a 1-point Rice lead late in the second half. Trey Murphy missed what would have been the game-winner in the final seconds of regulation, sending the game to overtime. Chris Mullins had a chance to clinch it in overtime, but his shot missed.
In the second overtime, Rice didn’t need one more shot. Trey Murphy made a huge three-point shot to give the Owls the lead and Mullins did the rest, scoring the Owls final five points of the game from the free throw line. The same Rice team which looked exhausted in double overtime against Western Kentucky weeks ago looked as locked in late as they’d been all game.
The result was more than your average comeback. The 20-point difference was tied second-largest margin overcome by any Rice team in school history. And they did it without two of their most important players on the court in the critical moments.
The win puts Rice in the driver’s seat in their portion of pod play. The 11-seed entering the bonus portion of the conference schedule, Rice has games remaining against Middle Tennesee and Charlotte (twice) with a trip to the conference tournament on the line. Rice defeated both schools (in regulation) during the regular season.
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