Down 37-36, McKrieth scored a fast-break layup and made the free throw after he was fouled by the Spartans' Moises Alvarez. The Owls were never headed the rest of the way, building up as much as a 16-point lead in the game's waning moments.
Rice had built as much as a 12-point lead in the first half before San Jose State rallied with a 13-4 run to close the first half. Bim Okunrinboye's three-point field goal with 15:38 left gave the Spartans a 33-32 lead, and an Alvarez jump shot gave SJSU its final lead with 13:37 remaining.
That's when McKrieth made his big play. A well-executed alley-oop from Omar-Seli Mance to Jamaal Moore made it 41-37 and the Owls were on their way to their fourth consecutive home win.
"We got out-manned down the stretch in the post. Rice did a good job of putting us at a disadvantage in the post. They did a great job of getting the ball inside to Harris and Diene," said Phil Johnson, whose team has lost three in a row. "Our guys couldn't handle it. That was the difference in the game.
"Our effort was good. We scrapped hard, but we got overpowered like an offensive line that's 80 pounds bigger than a defensive line."
SJSU's Brandon Hawkins led all scorers with 18, but he was the only Spartan who scored in double figures. San Jose State falls to 6-18 overall and 3-12 in league play.
"We came out real flat. We prepared the team, but we came out passive," added Johnson. "We used almost all our timeouts in the first half. We had to get the guys' attention."
Rice, the WAC's top three-point shooting team, won despite shooting 1-of-11 from three-point range. Omar-Seli Mance, the Owls' leading scorer at 15.9 points a game, only scored six points, but handed out a game-high seven assists.
"We were able to shoot 50 percent (from the field) because we had good ball movement. We were able to attack the rim in our halfcourt offense and in transition," said Rice coach Willis Wilson. "It was a very sound and solid effort by everyone and our free throws were big again."
The WAC tourney begins March 11th in Tulsa Oklahoma, home of the Golden Hurricane.
In Spartans Womens Action:
San Jose, Calif. — With her first dish of the night, senior Kim Lawson secured Rice's all-time career record for assists as the Lady Owls defeated San Jose State 71-63 Thursday night in Western Athletic Conference action at San Jose, Calif.
Lawson, who had tied Dede Brantley's mark of 452 last week against SMU, got her first assist when junior Johnetta Hayes hit a jumper with just a minute and a half gone in the game.
With the win the Lady Owls (12-12, 9-6 WAC) move into a tie with Fresno State for second place in the league standings.
In the early going, the teams swapped the lead five times before sophomore Michelle Woods, who scored a career high 12 points, hit a layup with 8:13 to play in the half to give Rice the lead for good. The Lady Owls took a 36-30 lead into halftime.
In the second half, Rice ran out to a 42-32 lead with 17:26 to play, but the Spartans (10-14, 6-9 WAC) pushed back to close the gap to just four points with 15:51 to go.
The Lady Owls responded with a 17-4 run.
San Jose State continued to battle, but freshman Rosyland Jeffries stepped up to the free throw line to hit three of four down the stretch to secure the Rice victory.
San Jose State's, Tatiana Taylor, led the way with 17 points for the women of Sparta.
Cricket Williams was one rebound away from a triple-double, finishing with 14 points, 10 assists and nine boards.
San Jose State will be back in action in the team's final home game of the 2002-03 season, hosting Tulsa on Sunday, March 2, at The Event Center.
It will also be "Senior Day" for the Spartans as they honor their seniors in their last home game. Tip off is scheduled for 2:00 p.m. (PST).
The game will be broadcast on KSJS (90.5 FM) with the pre-game show beginning at 1:45 p.m.