North Texas needed 45 minutes to put away a pesky Rice squad, but a pair of late Chris Jones free throws led the tenth-seeded Mean Green past the 15th-seeded Owls, 63-62, in the opening game of the Conference USA men’s basketball tournament in El Paso.
Rice held a 30-21 lead at the break thanks to a 5-10 performance from behind the arc. But North Texas fought back as they outscored the Owls 36-25 in the second half to draw even at 56 after regulation. Rice was doomed at the line in the extra session as they missed four in a row from the charity stripe; conversely, it was free throws that helped North Texas as Jones sunk the eventual game-winning pair with 7.8 left. An Owls attempt at the buzzer failed to drop and the Mean Green found themselves in tomorrow’s second round.
Rice’s Austin Ramljak was good for 17 points on 5-11 shooting from three, but was only 2-6 from the line; teammate Sean Obi scored 12 points and pulled down nine rebounds. North Texas’ Brandan Walton dropped 17 of his own, including a big three with under 30 seconds left that drew his squad to within one and set up Jones’ sequence.
The Mean Green take on (7) Tulane tomorrow at 2pm. The Green Wave won the regular-season matchup, 73-62.