MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) -- Morris Almond scored 31 points and grabbed eight rebounds as Rice defeated UTEP 77-74 Wednesday in the opening game of the Conference USA tournament.
Almond, who just before the game was named the C-USA Player of the Year, connected on 12-of-21 from the field, and keyed a second-half rally for the Owls. The 6-foot-6 senior guard scored 10 points in the final nine minutes to help the seventh-seeded Owls (15-15) erase a UTEP lead that grew to as much as 11 points in the second half.
"Even though we were playing from behind, we've been playing from behind a fair amount this year," said Rice coach Willis Wilson. "So with an 8-, 9-, 10-point deficit, I don't think our guys lost any confidence or lost focus."
Lorenzo Williams added 15 points and eight assists for Rice, which faces second seed Central Florida Thursday.
The Miners held a 64-56 lead with just under 9 minutes left when they began having trouble shooting and handling the ball. That opened the door for Almond to take over.
"You give a great player like Morris Almond a chance to beat you when you do those type of things," Miners coach Tony Barbee said.
UTEP led 39-37 at the half behind 12 points from Jackson that equaled Almond's dozen for Rice.
The Miners built the lead to up to 7 in the first half as Jackson scored 10 of UTEP's first 14 points. But the Owls managed a 12-2 run midway through the half to erase the advantage.