Both UH and Rice were victorious in their season-openers on the hardwood, but neither program will be bragging about the game.
The Cougars trailed by as many as ten against a Southland conference foe, Nicholls State, that they beat by 32 a year ago. Adam Brown hit a pair of key free throws near the end of regulation to tie the score, and Maurice McNeil banked in a shot in the lane with four seconds left in overtime to give Houston a one-point lead that they held on to for the 63-62 victory. Following both Brown's free throws and McNeil's bucket, the Colonel's leading scorer, Anatoly Bose, missed long, three-point, potential winners.
Brown led the Cougars with 20 points and four steals, but turned the ball over five times. McNeil contributed a double-double with 12 points and 13 boards, as did Kirk Van Slyke, putting up 12 points and 10 rebounds.
There were some good signs - the Cougars killed Nicholls State on the boards, with the same number of offensive rebounds as the Colonels had defensive rebounds (13) and played respectable defense. On the negative side, turnovers were a big problem: Houston committed a whopping 26. With Kendrick Washington on the bench, team depth was a serious issue. The bench contributed only 3 points.
Up next is SWAC opponent Alcorn State, who lost by 32 to Texas A&M tonight.
Across town, the Owls actually trailed at the half to St. Thomas, but got to the line repeatedly in the second half, and grabbed a 63-51 win. Trey Stanton led the Owls with 17 points off the bench. Arsalan Kazemi went 9-of-10 from the charity stripe en route to a double-double with 13 points and 14 rebounds.
Rice fans looking for evidence that the team has improved from its 1-win C-USA campaign of a year ago can't be terribly heartened by the performance. In the third year under head coach Ben Braun, the Owls shouldn't be sweating out victories over NAIA teams.
On Sunday, Rice faces Grambling State, who was losing by 19 to Baylor in the second half at last check.