Over Rice’s lengthy winter break, the men’s basketball team played seven games, winning four and losing three.
The Owls currently sit at 7-9 on the season and 2-1 in conference play, putting them fifth in the Conference USA standings. Head coach Scott Pera said that he was happy with the team’s performance over winter break.
“I think we improved,” Pera said. “I thought that we took the approach of a daily improvement. I think we did that and then we obviously came off that final weekend there with a sweep which really got our guys engaged even more as to what it takes to be successful at this level.”
The Owls wrapped up their non-conference slate and transitioned toward C-USA play at the end of the month of December. In their final four non-conference games, Rice went 2-2 with three out of the four games coming at home. The Owls first took on St. Edward’s University in their annual Kid’s Day Game, picking up a close win, 78-73.
Next, the team dropped an overtime thriller to the University of California, Santa Barbara. Rice then traveled to Edinburg, Texas to face the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Five freshmen led the team in scoring to help Rice earn the 75-67 victory. And in their non-conference finale, Rice lost by a margin of 17 points to the University of Nebraska, Omaha.
Freshman guard Chris Mullins excelled during those four games, scoring 20 or more points in three of the contests. For his efforts, he was awarded C-USA Freshman of the Week honors for the first time in his career. After coming off of the bench for the first 10 games of the season, Mullins has now started six consecutive games, and appears to be one of the primary scoring options on the team.
Rice opened up its C-USA schedule with a game against a one-loss University of North Texas team which sat atop the conference standings. Even though the Owls were heavy underdogs, they raced out to a 42-31 lead during the first half. The Mean Green followed with a 17-1 run to take the lead at halftime. After the Owls lost the lead, they would not regain it for the rest of the game, losing 103-87. Junior guard Robert Martin had a standout day despite the loss, scoring a career-high 35 points. The point total was the highest by a Rice player since Egor Koulechov scored the same amount in November of 2016.
The Owls got their first conference win of the season in the next game when they beat the University of Southern Mississippi at home. Rice went into halftime trailing by nine points. But from there, the Golden Eagles struggled to get any type of offense, shooting 29 percent from the field in the second half. The Owls would go on to outscore Southern Miss by 17 points in the final period and win the game 73-65. Rice completed its weekend sweep by defeating Louisiana Tech at home in another come-from-behind victory; the Owls went on a 17-4 run to end that game and win 78-66. Rice’s current two game win streak is the first in Pera’s tenure as head coach. Furthermore, the team’s current win total of seven matches that of last year’s final record.
After the Owls’ undefeated weekend, graduate transfer Jack Williams was named the C-USA Player of the Week. Williams averaged 13.5 points and 10.5 rebounds per game in the conference victories.
The Owls will continue conference play over the next two months before the C-USA Tournament in March.