By: Alex Del Barrio, Sportsradio 610By Alex Del Barrio

BIRMINGHAM (CBS HOUSTON) – The Rice Owls took another step forward toward their first trip to the postseason in the Mike Rhoades era with an impressive 86-75 victory over Southern Mississippi in the opening round of the Conference USA men’s basketball tournament.

The Owls found themselves trailing by double digits early as the Golden Eagles ran out to a 14-4 advantage. They rallied back with a 15-4 run to take their first lead at 21-20 after a quintet of threes by Marcus Evans, Marcus Jackson and Egor Koulechov.

The Owls led at the half 37-35 after closing out the final three and a half minutes on an 11-2 run capped off by a pair of Koulechov free throws with 28 seconds remaining.

In the second half the two squads would trade buckets for the first 10 minutes. Cortez Edwards tied the game at 65 for the Eagles with a jumper with 7:24 remaining. The Owls responded with a 12-2 run and led 77-67 after Evans trained a pair free throws.

Evans led three Owls in double figures with 26 points adding four assists. Jackson and Koulechov scored 20 and 17 respectively, with the later adding 12 rebounds for his third straight double-double.

The fifth seeded Owls will face the fourth seeded UTEP Miners in the quarterfinal round on Thursday with a 2 pm tipoff.

Alex Del Barrio  and Matt Murphy can be heard on Saturday afternoons 4-7 pm  Follow Alex Del Barrio on Twitter: @alexdelbarrio


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