Freshman guard Cory Joseph made a layup with 37 seconds to play and the Longhorns survived an upset scare when the Owls missed a 3-pointer to tie it at the buzzer, holding on for a 62-59 victory Saturday.
Joseph had 14 points and Jordan Hamilton scored 13 for the Longhorns, who made nine 3-pointers in the second half but couldn’t put the game away from the free throw line in the final seconds.
Texas (5-1) made just three 2-point field goals in the second half.
“We just got on a hot roll and we kept on going with it,” Joseph said.
The Owls packed into a zone defense for most of the game, allowing Texas to take most of the long-range shots uncontested. But they switched to a man-to-man defense in the final minutes. Joseph’s defender left him to guard Hamilton on the perimeter and Gary Johnson rifled him the pass for an easy basket.
“I was alone and Gary made a great find,” Joseph said.
Arsalan Kazemi scored 13 points for Rice (3-3). His two free throws with 55 seconds left had pulled the Owls within 58-57.
Joseph’s layup put Texas ahead 60-57. Joseph, Tristan Thompson and Hamilton then missed free throws down the stretch that would have sealed the win before Tamir Jackson’s 3-pointer at the horn bounced off the rim.
“Our guys played hard and played well. It’s one of those games you wish you had one more possession at the end,” Rice coach Ben Braun said.
Hamilton, who came in averaging 24.6 points, had a rough first half, missing all five shots. He found his stroke in the second half, hitting 4 of 8 3-pointers. Joseph was just as good, hitting 4 of 6.
But even when Texas started hitting shots, the Owls refused to be shaken off.
Rice led 23-20 at halftime and never let Texas get ahead by more than five points in the second half. Jackson had 12 points, including three tough driving layups, and Cory Pfleiger scored 12 for the Owls, all on 3-pointers.
Texas missed its final eight shots of the first half. The Longhorns started pressing on defense in the second and Johnson made the Longhorns’ first basket in 10 minutes.
Hamilton found his stroke seconds later and three 3-pointers in less than two minutes put Texas ahead.
“It was clear that they were going to let us shoot all of the 3s that we wanted to shoot,” Texas coach Rick Barnes said. “Early in the game, they weren’t even guarding Jordan on the perimeter.”
Given that kind of room, Texas kept firing up the 3-pointers. Joseph made two, Hamilton made another and Jai Lucas hit from long range and the Longhorns looked ready to pull away.
The Owls wouldn’t let them. Pfleiger made two 3-pointers and another by Lucas Kuipers cut the lead to 50-49 with just over 5 minutes to play.
After Joseph’s basket, Rice’s Trey Stanton got a layup attempt wedged between the rim and backboard with 19 seconds to play. The Owls had the possession arrow and Jackson drew a foul, but Rice was whistled for a foul after a missed free throw.
Hamilton made one of two free throw frees with six seconds left to give Texas the three-point lead before Jackson’s missed 3-pointer.
“This game was good for us,” Barnes said. “It still got down to where were are going to have to make some stops.”