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by: Kris Gardner, United States Basketball Writers Association member. Credentialed media member since 1997. USBWA approved online journalist. Voter of Katrina McClain, Naismith, USBWA, and Wooden awards.

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Houston Cougars edge Rice Owls 76-75

POSTED: March 3, 2012 -- 11:48 p.m. CT

HOUSTON, TX -- The Houston Cougars won a thrilling basketball game, 76-75, Saturday night over the Rice Owls in a unique way: sinking two free throws after a timeout was called. Houston senior Darian Thibodeaux made the free throws after Owls senior Connor Frizzelle called a timeout with 2.7 seconds left. Unfortunately, for Frizzelle and the Owls, the Owls did not have a timeout.

"Obviously, I'm happy we won the game," James Dickey, Houston Cougars head coach, said after the game. "I'm proud of our guys. We battled. We made it hard on ourselves. We had a 73-66 lead (with less than four minutes left); and, then, we made it hard. But, that's a credit to Rice. They do a good job executing offense; and, they got some big baskets."

The Cougars (15-14 overall, 7-9 in Conference USA) trailed the Owls 75-74 with five seconds remaining after Houston's Jonathon Simmons split two free throws. After a Houston timeout, the Owls tried to inbound the ball; and, Frizzelle stumbled while receiving the pass. Frizzelle fell to the floor and re-gained the ball. While on the court, Frizzelle asked for a timeout which the refs granted. Then, Frizzelle and his teammates quickly realized his mistake. Frizzelle maintained he didn't ask for a timeout. His teammates backed up Frizzelle's plea; but, the refs disagreed. After checking the video monitors, the referees determined 2.7 seconds remain and the Owls were assessed a technical foul.

Darian Thibodeaux was sent to the foul line; and, Thibodeaux (Tip) made both free throws to put the Coogs on top.

"I was just thinking about my teammates," Thibodeaux said after the game. "They had been picked me up in this game and the last few games. I haven't had too many good games lately; but, I was thinking about my teammates and all the hard times I've been through.

"What better opportunity than to win this game at the free throw line?", Thibodeaux said.

Thibodeaux scored a game-high 21 points on 6 for 9 from the floor -- including 5 for 8 from behind the three point line -- and held Frizzelle to 0 for 4 field goal shooting.

"I'm just trying to get back into the flow of the game and get back to my game," said Tip.

The Coogs led the Owls 39-34 at halftime thanks to a follow up basket by freshman post TaShawn Thomas. With 15:12 left, Thibodeaux nailed a 3 to put the Cougars ahead 53-40. The Coogs kept the Owls at arms' length the next six minutes until the Owls' zone defense disrupted the Coogs offense. The Coogs went cold while the Owls heated up.

The Owls (17-14, 8-8) outscored the Coogs 19 to 7 over the next 7:48 of the game and took a 75-73 lead, with 16 seconds left in the game, after junior Arsalan Kazemi converted a three-point play from a sweet bounce pass by Dylan Ennis.

After each team called timeout, the Coogs ran an isolation play for Jonathon Simmons. Simmons attacked the basket; and, Simmons was fouled by Owls frosh Ahmad Ibrahim. Simmons missed the first free throw but made the second free throw to set up the thrilling 5.2 seconds.

The Cougars outrebounded the Owls 39 to 30 and made 10 three-point shots (out of 22 attempts) compared to just 4 for 9 threes by the Owls. The Owls shot a sizzling 65 percent (13 for 20) from the floor in the second half.

With the win, the Cougars are the 9th seed in the upcoming 2012 Conference USA Men's Basketball Tournament. The Coogs will play 8th-seed UTEP, Wednesday, March 7, at 6:30pm.

CLICK HERE for news and info about the Coogs' men's basketball team.

CLICK HERE for The HRR's write-ups of Coogs' men's hoops games.

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