In a game where the pace kept by both teams was extremely quick, Rice men’s basketball opened its season with a win over Saint Leo University by a score of 80-64. Owls head coach Scott Pera said he was happy with his team’s effort.
“We need to learn how to win,” Pera said. “And especially now with five freshmen and [sophomore guard] Josh [Parrish] and [graduate forward] Jack [Williams] being new, we kind of got over a little bit of the hump.”
The game started slowly for the Owls’ offense; the team’s first points didn’t come until after three minutes had passed in the game. After that, Rice settled into the game by making several contested layups. For much of the first half, Saint Leo kept up with Rice. The game was within two points until there were four minutes left in the period.
The Owls went into the locker room at halftime leading 39-31. The effort was spearheaded by junior forward Robert Martin, who had 10 points in the first half and finished the night with a career-high 18 points. According to Pera, Martin’s performance was something the coach saw coming.
“I'm not surprised he was the difference in the game,” Pera said. “I'm not surprised at all because I watched it every day for the last 30 practices and the exhibition game [against St. Thomas].”
In the second half, Rice raced out to a 10-point lead. Saint Leo then narrowed the Owls’ lead to two points with eight minutes remaining. From that point on, Rice pulled away with help from 3-pointers made by Martin and junior Ako Adams, and maintained a double-digit lead through the final stages of the game. The Owls’ 16-point margin of victory was larger than all but one of their wins last season.
One of the keys to Rice’s win was offensive rebounding. The Owls had nine offensive rebounds, four of which were by Williams. Martin said Williams has been excellent at rebounding on the offensive glass.
“I think that's something that [Williams] has kind of brought to the program,” Martin said. “He’s just crazy on the boards. It's just trickled down and now everyone's just competing [for rebounds].”
Williams broke Rice’s record for rebounds during a debut game, registering a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds. In total, four Rice players scored in double digits: Martin, Adams, Williams and Parrish. According to Williams, the fact that the team scored in a variety of ways is a positive sign.
“We're just versatile,” Williams said. “Any night someone can get double figures, whether it’s five freshmen or the guys returning, and that's good against other teams because they can't just scout to stop one player.”
Houston Rockets superstar James Harden sat courtside at Tudor Fieldhouse to watch the Owls put together the win. He played for Pera during his high school years.
The Owls will next face the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. This marks a return for Pera, as he was a Quakers assistant coach for two seasons and is a native of Hershey, Pennsylvania. Pera said his return will be special.
“The Palestra is a special place,” Pera said, speaking of Penn’s home arena. “Our guys, some of them have no idea, so it’ll be fun to take them around Thursday night and kind of show them the place. We have a couple hundred people coming from Hershey to watch us and support our team. And so that’ll mean a lot to me.”