With 5.9 seconds left in the Rice men’s basketball season opener, Rice trailed Eastern Kentucky University 73-72. After a timeout, Rice sophomore guard Ako Adams received the ball off the inbound and sprinted down the court. He drove all the way to the basket and got a layup off. No good. Sophomore Tim Harrison grabbed the offensive rebound and tried a putback attempt. Again, no good. The buzzer sounded. Game over. The Owls were 0-1.
After the game, Head Coach Scott Pera said he was frustrated with the final minutes of the game and the end result.
“The game shouldn’t have come down to that,” Pera said. “I thought we played well enough to win.”
Moments before Adams’ last-ditch effort to win the game, Eastern Kentucky had taken its first lead of the game. Dedric Boyd was fouled on a three-point attempt with the Colonels trailing 72-70, and he made all three free-throws to give them a one-point lead.
Until that point, the Owls had not trailed. Rice came out hot. A layup by Harrison with 15:57 left in the first half gave the Owls a 10-2 lead. The Colonels chipped away and got within five later in the first half, but junior guard Connor Cashaw made two three pointers in a row to give the Owls a 36-25 lead. Eastern Kentucky finished the first half on a 6-0 run to make the score 36-31 at the break.
Rice would get its largest lead of the game after Adams made two free throws to give the Owls a 61-48 advantage with 8:12 to go in the game. Eastern Kentucky decreased the deficit, however, as Nick Mayo and Deandre Dishman proved to be problematic for the Owls in the paint. With just over a minute to go, Mayo made two free throws to tie the game up at 70-70.
On the other end, Rice sophomore guard Robert Martin went to the line and made both free throw attempts after he was fouled with 24 seconds remaining. It was not enough, though, as the shooting foul by Adams with five seconds left in the game proved costly. According to senior guard Bishop Mency, the team needed to play better defense down the stretch to come away with the victory.
“That last minute really hurt us,” Mency said. “We just gave them too many easy baskets and free throws. That’s what it came down to.”
Four players on the Owls scored in double digits as Cashaw led the team in scoring with 18 points. Mency was second on the team in scoring with 15 points as four out of his five made field goals were three pointers. Mency, who had limited playing time under head coach Mike Rhoades last season, said he was glad to contribute.
“I’m just happy I could knock down the shots,” Mency said. “I’m just trying to put my team in the best position every night.”
Cashaw also led the team in rebounding with 11 boards. He praised his teammates for their effort after the game.
“I’m proud of them,” Cashaw said. “They played intense, but now we just have to learn.”
Friday’s game against Eastern Kentucky was Pera’s first regular season game as a college head coach. He said he made sure to keep his emotions in check.
“I was excited early but I was just trying to do the best I could to keep my team focused on the task at hand,” Pera said.
One positive from the season opener was the attendance. 2,001 fans attended the game, many of them students. Mency, Cashaw and Pera all said the student section helped motivate the team during the game, and Pera said he was especially pleased with the turnout.
“I thought they had a great impact,” Pera said. “I was thrilled to see them … after the loss, I stood in front of the student section and pleaded with them to come back Tuesday night because they make a huge difference.”
On Tuesday, Rice takes on Georgia State University in Tudor Fieldhouse at 7 p.m. The Owls look to bounce back after a disappointing loss and win their first game of the season against the 1-0 Panthers.