Rice outlasted Houston on Wednesday, earning a 79-71 overtime victory, snapping the Cougars' eight-game winning streak against the Owls. Houston fell to 9-8 overall, and 3-3 in conference play, while Rice improved to 8-10, and 2-4 against conference foes.
The key play of the game was Rice's Connor Frizzelle drilling a 3-pointer with 13 seconds remaining in regulation to draw the teams to a 56-all tie. While Houston's perimeter defense has been a strength all year, they simply didn't do a good enough job of getting in the face of a good shooter, and Frizzelle hit a big shot.
Here's the key thing I'll be taking away from Wednesday's game: as it stands, these two teams are very evenly matched, in terms of overall talent.
We knew Arsalan Kazemi (17 points, 13 rebounds, four blocks) was the best pro prospect on either roster. We knew Tamir Jackson (13 points) was as good a guard as there is in the city of Houston. What was surprising was the way Rice's entire team, not just Kazemi, hit the offensive glass, totaling 16 offensive rebounds. Houston's outside shooting had a field day (10 of 17 from beyond the arc) as expected, but Rice very nearly kept pace (7 of 16).
What may have been perceived to be an overall athleticism advantage for Houston never materialized. The Owls imposed their will on the offensive end, attempting 10 more free throws than the Cougars. (Yes, that's partly due to garbage time fouls, but 31 free throw attempts is a lot, regardless.)
We learned that Houston's turnover problems may not be entirely behind it - it committed 19 as a team in the game. But give credit to Rice for forcing those turnovers, especially when Houston tried to force the basketball inside.
Yes, the home court advantage, and a few friendly whistles late in the game (especially Adam Brown's near decapitation that somehow went unnoticed by the officiating crew) helped out Rice. But what I'm taking away from this game is that, while Houston looks a whole lot better walking off a bus, Rice is an equally talented team.