Rice takes it to SMU

RENO - In two previous games this season Rice edged in-state rival Southern Methodist University in overtime.

Rice, though, didn't allow SMU a chance to make the final score close Thursday afternoon in taking a decisive 67-43 win in their WAC Tournament quarterfinal game at Lawlor Events Center.

Rice, which improved to 19-14, faces UTEP today at 6 p.m. SMU finishes the season 14-14.

"I wasn't surprised with the outcome. We have more depth than they did," said Rice coach Willis Wilson. "They were a little bit tentative. We were a bit more aggressive."

SMU battled Rice close for the first two minutes until the Owls put together a 7-0 run. Michel Harrison, who led all scorers with 24 points, ignited the short run with a baseline layup while teammate J.R. Harrison spun around for a jump shot and was fouled as the ball swished the net.

Harrison's feelings about his performance also spoke for the team.

"Everybody wants to win. No one wants to go home," he said. "We just want to get it done."

Harrison tallied 11 points, the only other Rice player scoring in double figures.

Wilson felt good about Rice's offenses and how his team controlled the game's tempo.

"I have always felt the offense would take care of itself if the defense was good," he said.

SMU coach Jimmy Tubbs showed his disappointment with his team's performance.

"Rice played very well. We did not shoot the ball very well," he said. "If you shoot 31 percent in a basketball game, chances are you're not going to win."

The Owls kept the pressure on SMU by denying the Mustangs from working their inside game. Midway through the first half Rice had doubled SMU with a 20-10 lead.

Harris kept working his inside game against the smaller Mustangs despite being double and triple-teamed. Rice pulled away for a 26-12 lead over a 3:37 span as Harris accounted for six points.

SMU and Rice each closed the first half with six points, but SMU trailed 32-18.

Rice's defense iced the Mustangs in the first half as SMU shot 27 percent from the floor. On the other hand, Rice hit 14-of-30 from the floor for 46.7 percent.

The Owls began the second half with a 7-2 run capped by Jason McKreith's 3-point bomb from beyond the arc.

Harris and company kept the pressure on SMU and led by as many as 26 points, 54-28 with 7:10 left in the game.

Before Rice had taken its biggest lead, Harris punished SMU's defense over a two-minute span by working the baseline and dunking the ball three times for six points.

Harris said he wasn't surprised with his three dunks.

"Great passing by my teammates. I got the dunks within our offense," he explained.

Likewise, Wilson said Harris plays well on both offense and defense.

"He is selfless enough to know what is going well," Wilson said.

With a most of the starters taking a rest for Rice, SMU cut into the Owl's lead with a 15-7 run.

Bryan Hopkins, who had been quiet from long range, drained a pair of treys to finish the game with 14 points. Patrick Simpson led SMU with 15.

Hopkins feels Rice has a good shot against UTP tonight.

"Nevada has a great team. UTEP has a great team. If Rice can knock off UTEP, they can take it all the way."

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