The Rice Owls only led for 0.1 seconds of the second half against New Mexico Saturday, but it was still enough to pull off a major road upset.
Following a technical foul on New Mexico, Rice’s Egor Koulechov made a free throw with 0.1 seconds left to give Rice an improbable 90-89 win. The Owls trailed by as many as 17 points in the second half.
The technical was assessed because the Lobos called timeout after securing a rebound on Koulechov’s missed jumper right before the buzzer. New Mexico didn’t posses a timeout.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been so proud of a team then I am right now,” Rice coach Mike Rhoades said in a news release. “We talked about coming in here and being grimy and gritty and just fighting like crazy. That’s what we did.”
The Owls improved to 5-6 on this season by taking down one of the favorites in the Mountain West. The Lobos (7-3) committed 18 turnovers, which Rice turned into 28 points.
New Mexico shot 51 percent from the field and seemed to have command of the game with a 66-49 lead at the 12:59 mark. A Connor Cashaw lay-up cut the lead to single digits with 9:34 left but the Lobos pushed it back to 15 on a Cullen Neal 3-pointer with 6:07 to go.
Fifty-one seconds later, that lead was down to five as Rice scored 10 straight points in less than a minute. The sequence started with a Cashew 3-pointer. Marquez Letcher-Ellis stole the ball leading to Marcus Evans’s bucket and the foul. Another Letcher-Ellis steal resulted in his lay-up. And Evans finished it off the wild sequence with another lay-up.
“One thing we can do, this team, is we can score,” Rhoades said. “As we get better and better on the defensive end, we’re going to have some fun opportunities like we did tonight.”
Rice didn’t catch completely up until the final 30 seconds. Koulechov hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 89 with 0:21 showing on the clock.
Elijah Brown committed a turnover for the Lobos, giving Rice a chance to win. Koulechov took the jumper with the clock ticking down. He missed, but ended up getting to be the hero anyhow after the technical foul. The Owls scored 52 points in the second half.
“Give them credit, Rice played a heck of a game,” New Mexico coach Craig Neal said in a news release. “They scored the ball, we had no answer for them. I thought our defense was not very good but this game’s on me, it had nothing to do with our players. I didn’t get them up to play and they just played with more energy and more effort.”
Koulechov ended with 32 points, including shooing 6 for 7 from the line. Evans contributed 21 points and eight rebounds while Cashaw had three 3-pointers on the way to a 14-point evening. Brown was the top Lobo scorer with 21.