Tudor Fieldhouse will be rocking on Thursday night as the Rice University men’s basketball team hosts Oregon State University in its first home game of the 2015-16 season. According to Head Coach Mike Rhoades, the team cannot wait to play in front of the home crowd.
“We have 17 home games this year, and that’s really great for the [players],” Rhoades said. “I wish every game was a home game.”
The home crowd will see a very different team from the one that took the court last year at Tudor. It will be the first home game for five freshmen on the team: guard/forward Harrison Brown, guards Connor Cashaw and Marcus Evans and forwards Marquez Letcher-Ellis and Amir Smith. Sophomore forward Egor Koulechov, who transferred from Arizona State University, will also be playing in his first official game at Tudor Fieldhouse. Rhoades said that while these players are new to the Rice program, he is not afraid to let them play.
“We need them to play significant minutes and make an impact,” Rhoades said. “We’re throwing them in the fire right as the season starts, but that’s the fun of it.”
The newcomers are not the only players being challenged. Rice opened the season with two road games on the west coast against strong opponents: the University of California, Berkeley and the University of San Francisco. In their first game of the year, the Owls fell to No. 14 California 97-65. Egor Koulechov led the way for Rice with 19 points and eight rebounds, but it was not enough to defeat the Golden Bears. The Owls played San Francisco on Monday night before returning home to prepare for Oregon State.
Thursday will mark the fourth meeting between Rice and Oregon State. The Beavers have won two of the three previous matchups, including a 67-54 victory over the Owls last November. Oregon State competes in the Pacific 12 Conference, a conference that currently has four schools ranked in the Associated Press Top 25. The Beavers return all five starters from a team that went 17-14 under first-year Head Coach Wayne Tinkle. They are led by senior guard Gary Payton Jr., who was honored as the Pac-12 defensive player of the year last season and was named to the first team all-conference. According to Rhoades, the matchup will be a challenge for the Owls.
“They’re very good,” Rhoades said. “Coach Tinkle has done a great job with his program in just one year.”
The likely starting lineup for Oregon State includes Payton, senior guard Langston Morris-Walker, senior forward Olaf Schaftenaar, junior guard Malcolm Duvivier and freshman forward Drew Eubanks. These five players started the Beavers’ season opening 74-52 victory over Northwest Christian University.
The Rice starting lineup, however, remains in flux. The Owls were forced to adapt after losing their top scorer, junior guard Marcus Jackson, and a highly touted newcomer, freshman guard Chad Lott, to knee injuries before the season began. The starters against California included senior guard Max Guercy, freshman guard Marcus Evans, sophomore guard Bishop Mency, junior center Andrew Drone and sophomore forward Egor Koulechov. According to Rhoades, the lineup is not set yet, but the uncertainty may be helping the team.
“It’s a tryout every day,” Rhoades said. “We’ve improved our competitiveness because guys think, ‘If I beat that guy out today, I’m going to play more than him.’”
Rice is hoping its competitiveness can help it to defeat top-tier programs like Oregon State. According to Rhoades, the Owls are confident that if they play hard, they can win this game.
“Getting close isn’t good enough,” Rhoades said. “For those 40 minutes, let’s be on edge, let’s be aggressive, let’s be loose, let’s be very confident and let’s see what we can do.”
Rice will look to win its third straight home opener when it takes the court at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 19 at Tudor Fieldhouse. The game will be televised on the American Sports Network and broadcast on TuneIn Radio.