Men's basketball trounces Privateers 83-49
After trailing at halftime against an inferior opponent in their season opener a year ago, the men's basketball team looked to establish their dominance early on in the first game of the 2011-12 season against the University of New Orleans (0-2). Just how long would it take for them to do so? All of 10 seconds.
In front of a packed home crowd last Saturday night at Tudor Fieldhouse, Rice juniorguard Tamir Jackson corralled the opening tip and found fellow junior Arsalan Kazemi streaking to the hoop for a dunk to open the scoring for the season. Rice would lead wire-to-wire, utilizing their advantage on the glass and receiving strong contributions from the freshman class en route to an 83-49 rout of the Privateers.
Kazemi, who had 11 points and 12 rebounds, and Jackson, who tallied nine points and three assists would combine again just minutes into the game, this time on a highlight-reel alley-oop that Kazemi finished emphatically with one hand for a 12-4 lead. But UNO would keep it close throughout the half, as 15 turnovers in the first 20 minutes kept the Owls from pulling away early. New Orleans settled in after the first few possessions, applying pressure on the ball and cutting the deficit to just five points with under four minutes remaining in the first half. But the Owls would push their lead up to double digits before the break, due much in part to strong play from their backcourt. After free throws from senior Connor Frizzelle and Jackson, freshman Dylan Ennis got to the rim and scored with 11 seconds remaining to put Rice up 34-23. Ennis then stole the ball with under five seconds left and dished to Jackson, whose layup with the clock expiring capped an 8-0 run to end the half for Rice.
The lead would only grow for the Owls in the second half, as the upperclassmen and the newcomers worked cohesively to put UNO away with a balanced scoring attack and stingy team defense. After the teams exchanged baskets in the first few minutes, Jackson found freshman Jarelle Reischel under the basket for a dunk to put Rice up 42-27. Reischel, the only freshman to start the game for Rice, finished with seven points and five rebounds in his collegiate debut. Fellow rookie Seth Gearhart later extended the Owls' lead to 56-35 with under 10 minutes left, igniting a 22-10 run that would put the game out of reach. All but two of Rice's points during this span were scored by freshmen, who accounted for 39 of the team's 83 points on the evening. Leading the youth movement was freshman Julian DeBose, who scored a team high 12 points to go along with four rebounds and three assists. Ennis would finish the night with eight points and five boards, and freshman Ahmad Ibrahim added seven points to commemorate his collegiate debut.
Jackson and Kazemi, the junior leaders expected to spearhead Rice's push for a postseason berth, were strong when called upon in the season opener. The tandem combined to shoot 70 percent from the field for the game, as neither was forced to play more than eight minutes in the second half. Seniors Lucas Kupiers and Frizzelle also contributed with efficient performances in their relatively limited minutes, as the senior starters were able to watch the majority of the second half from the bench. Sophomore J.R. Reynolds' layup in the final minutes marked the 11th scorer of the night for the Owls, as Rice opened their season with a win for the fourth straight year under Head Coach Ben Braun. A forgotten statistic within last weekend's blowout is the fact that 10 players played 10 or more minutes, a sure sign that this team's depth is unprecedented in the Braun era.
After a game last night at Southern University, the team's second straight game against a New Orleans school, Rice will host the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore Sunday afternoon and Florida A&M University on Tuesday night before heading south next week for the South Padre Invitational. Assuming an Owls' victory last night against the Jaguars, the Owls should have no trouble moving to 4-0 with wins over the Hawks and the Rattlers. On paper, the Owls have much more talent and the home-court environment at Tudor Fieldhouse should allow Rice to cruise to victories. The Hawks were blown out in their first matchup against George Washington University, 64-48, but squeaked out a two-point overtime victory over American University on Monday. Florida A&M has had a rough start to their season, losing their first two games to the Georgia Institute of Technology and Stetson University by a combined 51 points. The Rattlers are 328th in the NCAA Ratings Percentage Index, compared to Rice's ranking of 183.
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