rice 78, st. edward’s 73 Mullins, Williams help applyfinishing touches to victory
Some of last year’s losses might have gone Rice’s way if not for a lack of closers.
On Thursday, two Owls newcomers seized control late to close out St. Edward’s 78-73 at Tudor Fieldhouse, snapping a four-game losing streak and building momentum for the start of Conference USA play this month.
“When you have 12 games off, it really makes you think of games you could’ve won, mistakes we had,” Rice guard Chris Mullins said. “So the next time we had an opportunity was today. I wasn’t trying to lose.”
After shooting 80 percent from behind the arc early on, Rice (4-6) largely subsisted on layups and free throws — shooting 88.2 percent from the line in the second half after making less than 68 percent of its free throws in the previous five games.
“I was really, really pleased with the free-throw shooting,” coach Scott Pera said. “We spent a lot of time on that the last 10 days because basically it helped us win the game today.”
Rice entered halftime with a one-point advantage, but St. Edward’s used a series of five-point runs to take the lead in the second half.
The second half featured 10 lead changes. The Hilltoppers (9-2) were on top by seven points as the game moved under 10 minutes to play.
But in the final six minutes, two players dominated for the Owls.
For a four-minute stretch, forward Jack Williams scored all of Rice’s points other than a pair of Robert Martin free throws.
Williams hit a jumper at the 5:01 mark to even the game for the fourth time in the half.
But on the other end of the floor, St. Edward’s guard Ryan Garza nailed a 3-pointer despite a Williams arm obstructing his view.
Rice tightened up on defense and after Mullins made a steal and went coast-to-coast for a game-tying layup with 1:40 left, the Owls wouldn’t allow another point.
Mullins and Williams scored the game’s final seven points, capping the feat by flexing and bumping chests after the final buzzer.
“I was trying to turn it up,” Williams said of the game’s final minutes. “I just wanted to be as aggressive as I could and I was feeding off of Chris. … Last four minutes I thought we got rolling and they were kind of nervous and I felt we had no pressure.”
Mullins showed flashes of dominance. He scored a career-high 24 points to go with two steals. Williams tied a career high with 17 points and added eight rebounds. Owls guard Ako Adams contributed 10 points.
“When practice started kicking off, I had confidence. I was showing this ability in practice,” Mullins said. “I knew that I was going to be able to do what I did out there … I’m just glad to be able to show it in my game.”
Rice plays UC Santa Barbara on Saturday before closing out non-conference play against UT Rio Grande Valley and Nebraska-Omaha. The conference schedule begins Dec. 29 with North Texas.
“We’re trying to get over .500 before Christmas break,” Williams said. “That’s our goal, one at a time.”