Hardwood Owls reach 5-2 mark with win over HBU
After winning the season opener against a simply overmatched University of New Orleans squad, the men's basketball team hosted three more non-conference opponents at Tudor Fieldhouse before making the Thanksgiving weekend trip to South Padre Island where the competition grew tougher.
Led by a career-high 29 points from junior guard Tamir Jackson, the Owls pulled away in the second half of a Nov. 17 matchup against Southern University for an 80-65 victory, their second of the season. Head Coach Ben Braun's backcourt proved lethal in the second half, as Jackson and freshman guard Dylan Ennis complemented each other nicely on offense, combining for more than half of Rice's points for the evening.
For Jackson, the career night against Southern marks the earliest returns of what he and Braun have identified as a very productive summer of training to become the team's veteran leader. "Me and Coach [Braun] talked all summer about being balanced and helping the team win in any way I can," Jackson said after Rice's second win of the season. "If I can let the game come to me, I feel like I play much better."
Three days later, the Owls played host to University of Maryland–Eastern Shore and established their superiority over the opponent within the game's first five minutes. After UMES scored first, Rice went on a 20-0 run led by multiple 3-pointers from seniors Connor Frizzelle and Lucas Kuipers. UMES bounced back from the early 20-2 deficit to hold its halftime deficit to 15 points, but in the final 20 minutes sophomore Omar Oraby had the best game of his Rice career, scoring 17 points in just eight minutes of action to help Rice pull away for an easy 81-49 win.
Oraby displayed strong moves in the post and used his 7'2" frame to take over the game for a brief stretch.
"I want to thank my teammates," a soft-spoken Oraby said after reaching his career-high point tally. "They just kept feeding me the ball, and I kept scoring. I owe a lot of that to my teammates."
Also of note for Braun in the game against UMES was the contribution from the freshmen, a recurring theme in Rice's first six games of the season. Five different rookies played at least 10 minutes in the game, including Julian DeBose, making his first career start. "The young guys are getting some valuable minutes, which is important," Braun said of the contributions from the freshman class. "They've really earned them. They're all playing hard, and they're also playing pretty well."
The season-opening homestand came to an end on Nov. 14 when Rice played host to Florida A&M University. Both teams struggled from the field in the first half as Rice got out to a 28-18 halftime lead behind eight first-half points from Frizzelle. Florida A&M kept the game close in the second half, but Rice held on and pulled away late behind a strong team defensive effort, holding the opponent to just 37 percent shooting for the evening. Junior Arsalan Kazemi led the way with 15 points and 15 rebounds as Rice earned the 75-59 win to improve to 4-0, its best start since the 2004-05 season.
The Owls spent their Thanksgiving holiday at South Padre Island as they prepared for their two toughest tests of the young season, their first coming last Friday against the University of Northern Iowa. The Owls hung tough with the Missouri Valley Conference opponent throughout the first half, playing to an 18-18 tie after the game's first 13 minutes. Rice would turn it over five times in the closing minutes of the half, and Northern Iowa took advantage, closing on a 16-6 run to take a 10-point advantage into the locker room.
Little separated the two teams for most of the second half, as Kazemi and Jackson kept the Panthers from pulling away late. Down 10 with under four minutes left, Kazemi and Jackson converted on consecutive trips to the line to bring Rice within six points. Following another Jackson free throw and a steal by Rice, Jackson fed Kazemi underneath for a dunk to bring Rice within three points with 59 seconds to go, but Northern Iowa responded to the 7-0 run, running the clock down to under 30 seconds before Marc Sonnen drained a three to put the game away. Kazemi and Jackson would finish with 33 of Rice's 60 points for the evening, but the Owls' upset fell just short in a 64-60 loss, their first of the season.
Rice had a tough time keeping things as close in its final game of the South Padre Island Invitational, as tit ran into a hot-shooting Iowa State University squad that shot an uncanny 14-29 from behind the arc en route to a 90-63 win over Rice. Jackson led the way with 13 points, but the story of the night was Iowa State guard Chris Babb, who tallied 26 points on 7-11 shooting from distance.
The loss dropped Rice to 5-2 for the year, but does little to diminish from an overall strong start to the season for Braun's team. On Wednesday, freshman Ahmad Ibrahim had a breakout game with 19 points while Jackson had 20 points in Rice's 78-66 victory over Houston Baptist University. The Owls will host the University of St. Thomas tomorrow afternoon at Tudor Fieldhouse before taking a break for the final exams period.
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