HOUSTON, DEC. 8 -- Adversity reached maximum levels for Georgetown tonight, but in the bargain Coach John Thompson almost certainly became further enamored of his young supporting cast.

The sixth-ranked Hoyas were without an ailing Alonzo Mourning and started four freshmen. They spent a supposed letdown day against an improved Rice team in a moderately hostile environment at The Summit. They saw center Dikembe Mutombo get banged up, yet they emerged with a tough and gratifying 53-47 victory before 3,904.

Mutombo -- afterward nursing a swollen nose and a sore hand -- had 10 points and 13 rebounds, and helped limit Rice's highly regarded sophomore center, Brent Scott, to two second-half points. Freshman reserve Lamont Morgan led a balanced attack for Georgetown (5-0) with 11 points; point guard Joey Brown had nine.

Still, Mourning had a strained arch in his left foot sustained during Wednesday's triumph over No. 5 Duke, and the Hoyas had a second-half scare. The Owls (3-2) erased an early 10-point deficit and led briefly, but Georgetown reversed Rice's charge and took over with a 14-2 run sparked by Morgan and some harassing defense.

Scott and guard Dana Hardy each had 14 Rice points, and Scott a career-high 16 rebounds. Georgetown shot just 36 percent from the field but held Rice to 30 percent, including a nightmarish two for 23 from three-point range.

"We felt we had a great opportunity to beat what we feel is a very good basketball team and we let it go," said Rice Coach Scott Thompson, whose club's point total was its lowest in four years. "Georgetown's quickness and intensity defensively hurt us. . . . {but} we're better shooters than we showed tonight."

Georgetown's Thompson denied getting any extra gratification from winning without Mourning, saying: "I don't want to get accustomed to going without Alonzo."

But he let himself gloat briefly about the Hoyas' outside shooting and defensive pressure -- "this team is going to be better {defensively} on the perimeter than any we've had in a long time" -- and others admitted to a boost in satisfaction.

"It meant a lot," Mutombo said. "Alonzo means a lot to our team, and to win without him in there shows something about our freshmen and the people on our bench."

Mourning said the injury occurred when he landed awkwardly after blocking Brian Davis's drive in the final moments of Wednesday's game -- in which he had 22 points and 10 rebounds in one of his best performances. "I'm lucky that it was the last play," he said. "It hurt a lot. . . . It still hurts a lot."

Mourning has not practiced since, Thompson said, but, "He probably would have played {tonight} if I had let him. At this time of the year, I just did not want to take the risk."

Georgetown actually became a bigger team at times in Mourning's absence, as Thompson started 7-foot-2 freshman Pascal Fleury in his sted.

And the Hoyas came out firing, shooting seven three-pointers in the first seven minutes. Charles Harrison missed one on their first possession, but Harrison and Brown connected the next two times Georgetown had the ball for a 6-0 lead. Mutombo nailed a hook shot, then Robert Churchwell and Harrison hit three-pointers and the Hoyas led, 14-4.

Rice methodically worked its way back. Scott began to free himself inside against the slower Mutombo, and had eight points by the time the Owls drew within 16-15.

Rice then went 11 possessions, a span of 7:16, without scoring, but Georgetown could only get to 22-15. A goaltending call against Mutombo on Scott's layup made it 24-21 but the Hoyas got Morgan's steal and layup for a 26-21 edge at the break.

Two by Brown and Mutombo's followup made it 32-24 but Hardy suddenly ignited and shot the Owls into the lead, 37-34, with 11:26 to play.

Georgetown's decisive surge followed moments later. Morgan provided eight points in the run, including two three-pointers and a steal and layup off the full-court press, and the Hoyas finally had breathing room, 52-41 with 3:21 to go.