Rice 77, UTEP 74
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP)—Morris Almond scored 31 points and grabbed eight rebounds as Rice defeated UTEP 77-74 Wednesday in the opening game of the Conference USA tournament.
Almond, who just before the game was named the C-USA Player of the Year, connected on 12-of-21 from the field, and keyed a second-half rally for the Owls. The 6-foot-6 senior guard scored 10 points in the final nine minutes to help the seventh-seeded Owls (15-15) erase a UTEP lead that grew to as much as 11 points in the second half.
After Charles Belton hit one of two free throws for Rice with 13 seconds left, UTEP’s Kevin Henderson and Malik Alvin each took a shot for the tie but missed.
“Even though we were playing from behind, we’ve been playing from behind a fair amount this year,” said Rice coach Willis Wilson. “So with an 8-, 9-, 10-point deficit, I don’t think our guys lost any confidence or lost focus.”
Lorenzo Williams added 15 points and eight assists for Rice, which faces second seed Central Florida Thursday.
Stefon Jackson led UTEP (14-17) with 17 points and seven rebounds before fouling out, while Henderson had 16 points. Maurice Thomas added 12 points for the 10th-seeded Miners.
The Miners held a 64-56 lead with just under 9 minutes left when they began having trouble shooting and handling the ball. That opened the door for Almond to take over.
“You give a great player like Morris Almond a chance to beat you when you do those type of things,” Miners coach Tony Barbee said.
UTEP led 39-37 at the half behind 12 points from Jackson that equaled Almond’s dozen for Rice.
The Miners built the lead to up to 7 in the first half as Jackson scored 10 of UTEP’s first 14 points. But the Owls managed a 12-2 run midway through the half to erase the advantage.