A third quarter burst by Texas Southern turned the tide as the Tigers downed Rice 63-56 in their 2019-20 home debut Saturday afternoon inside the H&PE Arena.
The first quarter was tight as both teams remained within striking distance of each other. However, Rice would close out the quarter on an 8-2 run to lead 19-14. The Owls kept a multiple possession lead to open the second quarter as they would lead by six on multiple occasions within the first six minutes.
With Rice leading 26-20 with 4:25 remaining, TSU rode the back of its guards to keep the contest from getting away as Ciani Cryor nailed two free throws to close within 26-22 followed by Ataiya Bridges’ jumper with 1:52 left to narrow the deficit to 26-24. Rice’s Sydne Wiggins would answer with 1-of-2 free throws to up the lead to 27-24. However, Cryor closed out the half with a bang with five points in the final 44 seconds as TSU would end the half down 30-29 due to a three-pointer by Rice with 29 seconds left.
TSU relied on its defense to open the second half as an early Rice turnover led to a layup from Niya Mitchell and a 31-30 TSU lead. Rice’s Erica Ogwumike hit 1-of-2 free throws to tie the game and an Owl steal 13 seconds later led to a 33-31 Rice lead at the 7:23 mark.
TSU’s Richelle Velez ignited the crowd with a huge three-pointer for a 36-33 lead and TSU forced two Rice turnovers over the next 1:10 which led to a trey from Bridges and a 39-33 TSU margin. The Tigers would force two more turnovers from that point and turned the intensity up as they outscored the Owls 12-8 over the final 5:30 to head into the final quarter 52-41.
The fourth quarter saw Rice attempt to chip away at the Tiger lead as they closed to within seven (54-47) at the 5:32 mark but the Tigers found ways to answer each time Rice would attempt to come back. The lead would dwindle down to 59-53 slightly under a minute remaining but Cryor answered with a layup for an eight-point margin and TSU never looked back as they closed out the contest with their ninth win all-time over the Owls.
Niya Mitchell finished with a double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds despite fouling out while Cryor led TSU with 20 points, nine assists and eight steals. Bridges would add 14 points and three steals off the bench for TSU.
The Tigers will have time off for finals as their next game is slated for Saturday, Dec. 14 at Gonzaga.