For the University of Houston Cougars, it was another early exit from the conference tournament and a first-round loss in the NIT, but another 20-win season.
For the Rice Owls, it's a rare 20-win campaign. The Owls got a win in the first round of the CBI and will likely be the only Houston squad still playing come Monday night.
It's a matter of degree, this issue of success. It looks as if Rice is on the move while some could argue that the Cougars are stuck where they have been for many years since the departure of Guy V. Lewis. Yet both teams are in roughly the same place. It's just that Rice has had so far to rise from a long, long history of ineptitude that any improvement looks gigantic.
The Owls defeated the University of San Francisco 85-76 on Wednesday night. And while the CBI does not have the cachet of the NIT which does not have to cachet of the NCAA Tournament, it's still a big win for the Owls. The team's record is now 23-11 for the season, the second-most wins in school history, and the victory allows the Owls to keep playing basketball. It was also, in what has become a key factor in the Owls improvement, a game that was close late in which the Owls, unlike in past seasons (or earlier this season) ended up pulling away for the win.
“I was really proud of our guys,” Rice head coach Mike Rhoades told the media. “This is a great tournament and I’m really appreciative of being in it. We made plays down the stretch. They did a great job guarding late in the game.”
San Francisco led 72-70 late in the game before Rice went off on a 15-4 run to end the game. That run was led by sophomore guard Marcus Evans who scored 12 of those final 15 points. Evans was aided in the game by Egor Koulechov who led Rice with 24 points and 11 boards. It was another eye-opening night for Koulechov, who collected his 13th double-double of the season.
“Now we get to go play another game and try to go get No. 24,” Rhoades told the Houston Chronicle. “We haven't said that at Rice in a long time.”
The Cougars played the same day as the Owls and saw their season end with a 78-75 loss to Akron. Unlike the Rice game, the UH game aired on television, and those who watched got to see an incredibly exciting game featuring 15 ties and 16 lead changes. The Cougars led 72-71 with just under two minutes left on the clock, but couldn't hold on.
As always this season, the Cougars were led in scoring by Rob Gray with 24 points and by Damyean Dotson with 19. But as also has been the case the season, the Cougars struggled to find a third scorer. Devin Davis, who head coach Kelvin Sampson thought would fill that role, finished the night with 10 points. And Sampson also noted the Cougars were doomed once again by a lack of size.
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“We probably needed another body, another length guy,” Sampson told reporters after the game. “Devin (Davis) did a great job, it is different with [Damyean] Dotson going there at 6’5 vs Devin, who is a little bit longer. But that is who we had tonight.”
So now it's onto the offseason for UH where Sampson will look have to look for several more players to help Gray with the scoring. Dotson is a senior, so he's gone. If Davis is healthy for the complete season he should be one of the scorers. But Sampson knows his team needs to get better in several areas just because it has been working with such a small margin of error.
“Are we deficient in a couple of areas?” Sampson said. “Sure, we are. We know that. That’s why as you’re building your program, you continue to recruit to address your needs. But this team, all season long had a small margin of error. They fought and gave us everything they could possibly give us. That was a good team tonight. Could we have won it? Absolutely, we could have won that game. But we didn’t.”
So ends the season for UH. So continues the season for Rice. But no matter the outcomes this week, both teams continue to show positive signs for next year.