Sophomore guard Travis Evee introduced himself to the UTSA Roadrunners Friday, knocking down eight 3-point shots and scoring 36 as the Rice Owls registered a 95-86 victory in the Conference USA opener for both teams.
In the game played at Tudor Fieldhouse in Houston, Evee, a first-year Rice player and a transfer from VMI, hit 13 of 19 from the field. Shooting from long range, he was equally efficient, making 8 of 13 for the Owls.
For the Roadrunners, it was a tough loss in that they played well in many phases of the game, only to allow the Owls’ second-leading scorer to get loose on them with a second-half barrage of 23 points.
After intermision, Rice overcame a six-point deficit by hitting 59 percent from the field and nine threes. The Owls outscored the Roadrunners 13-2 in the final four minutes.
“There were so many winning plays by so many different guys,” Rice coach Scott Pera said. “Max (Fiedler) with an and-one, Travis (Evee) with a pull-up jumper, Chris (Mullins) with a defensive steal (and) Quincy (Olivari) with a big bucket. Just so many different guys did so many different things down the stretch.”
The Owls (7-2, 1-0) can’t celebrate the New Year’s Day victory for too long. The Roadrunners (4-4, 0-1) will get a chance for redemption Saturday afternoon, in the same arena, with the second end of a back-to-back to open the C-USA schedule.
Rice 7-2, 1-0
UTSA 4-4, 0-1
UTSA at Rice, 2 p.m., Friday
Strong start for UTSA
The Roadrunners played well in the first half, making 54 percent from the field and forging a 48-42 lead at the intermission. Senior Keaton Wallace got untracked with 6 of 6 shooting, including 5 of 5 from three. Newcomer Cedrick Alley, a junior transfer, also emerged from some shooting woes with a solid showing and 12 points. Referees waved off Jordan Ivy-Curry’s bucket at the buzzer because of basket interference on Jacob Germany.
Roaring from behind
Reeling from Wallace’s shooting spree, the Owls didn’t flinch. Evee came out and made his first three attempts of the second half — all threes. Altogether, the Owls put together an 11-minute stretch in which they outscored the Roadrunners 33-20. Chris Mullins capped it with a drive that made it 75-68 in favor of the Owls with 9:02 remaining. At that juncture, Jhivvan Jackson, the active leading scorer in the NCAA with more than 2,100 points in three plus seasons, started to heat up. Jackson hit a couple of threes. UTSA kept applying pressure and took a 84-82 lead into the final four minutes.
Down the stretch
Playing at a fast pace all afternoon, Rice summoned enough energy at the end to outscore UTSA 13-2 in the final four minutes. Quincy Olivari scored seven of his 21 points in the run for the Owls. Evee scored five. From the four-minute mark to the buzzer, UTSA hit only one basket. The Roadrunners committed three turnovers and misfired on four threes.
With the victory, Rice broke a string of four straight losses to Steven Henson-coached UTSA. The Owls’ last victory over the Roadrunners came in February of 2017, in Henson’s first year. Last season, UTSA won 90-88 at Tudor Fieldhouse on a driving layup by Erik Czumbel with one second left.
UTSA coach Steve Henson acknowledged that the Roadrunners didn’t have much of an answer for Evee, a 6-1 guard from Randolph, Mass.
“It didn’t look like we did much to slow him down,” Henson said on a zoom conference. ” … Several of his early (baskets, in the second half) we got lost (defensively). He had a good first half. He hits three in a row in the second half, and it’s pretty obvious … You can’t totally forget about the team defense concept, but, man, the guy was on fire. You can’t go under a screen at that point. You can’t over-help.”
In spite of the defensive problems, UTSA was in the game until the end, when a fairly solid offensive showing came unraveled.
“It was almost like we panicked a little bit,” Henson said. “We did not have good possessions down the stretch … Quick shots, not much movement, not much passing. Hard shots. Questionable decisions.”
At a glance — Rice
Travis Evee 36 points, 4 assists; Quincy Olivari 21 points, 7 rebounds; Chris Mullins 14 points, 5 rebounds 4 assists; Max Fiedler 12 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists.
At a glance — UTSA
Keaton Wallace 21 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists; Jhivvan Jackson 18 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 steals; Jacob Germany 17 points, 3 rebounds; Cedrick Alley Jr. 15 points, 4 rebounds; Eric Parrish 6 points, 6 assists.