Hardwood crew wins two, then blows big lead vs. UAB
From the season's opening, men's basketball Head Coach Ben Braun has preached a simple message to his team.
"(The team) is going to have to learn what consistency is all about," Braun said in his pre-season press conference for the media. "Consistency is something you have to work on and take the challenge."
If the Rice head coach was so clear in his message to start the year, how is it that the most consistent player of the Ben Braun era still manages to somehow fly under the radar?
The story of senior Connor Frizzelle's career at Rice is one told not through headlines and highlights, but instead by consistent achievement and leadership on the court. A starter in each of his four seasons and participant in every game Rice has competed in during his career, Frizzelle has put up nearly identical numbers in points, assists and minutes as a mainstay in the backcourt since his freshman year. A strong deep shooter and one of the league's best from the free-throw line, Frizzelle has also shown an ability to run the point when called upon by his coaches. On a team with a C-USA player of the year candidate and one of the nation's leading rebounders, with a junior point guard that has run the offense from his first days on campus and with freshmen representing five of the top nine players in terms of minutes, the headlines can be tough to come by.
Even Frizzelle's illustrious acceptance into the 1,000-point club, becoming just the 29th player in Rice history to do so, went relatively unheralded. The senior reached the milestone in a game over the winter break, and juniors Arsalan Kazemi and Tamir Jackson also achieved the feat just six and eight games later, respectively.
But in New Orleans last Saturday, Rice basketball's Mr. Consistent connected from behind the arc at the buzzer to propel his team past Tulane University, 50-49, captivating all of the headlines in Rice's most exciting win of the season.
The Owls entered the C-USA tilt with a record of 10-7 for the year and 1-1 in conference after a double-digit win last week at Southern Methodist University. Their opponent, the Green Wave of Tulane, garnered attention by starting the season 9-0 but fell to the University of Central Florida and the University of Southern Mississippi in its first two games in the conference. After the hosts took a three-point lead on a pair of free throws with seven seconds left, they then decided to foul Frizzelle to the line to keep Rice from attempting a game-tying three-point shot. One of the better free-throw shooters in the program's history, the senior made the first attempt with 3.9 seconds left to cut the deficit to two before intentionally missing his second shot. The rebound caromed off of a Tulane player and went out of bounds under the basket with 2.1 seconds left giving Rice one last chance to extend or win the game. With freshman Ahmad Ibrahim inbounding the ball, Frizzelle caught it in front of the Rice bench at the top of the key, took one dribble to his left, and released the game-winner with less than a second to spare. The shot fell through the net with no time on the clock, sending the Owls' bench into a frenzy as they mobbed Frizzelle on the court with the stunning road win in hand.
Jackson in the winning effort became the 31st student-athlete in Rice history to reach the 1,000-point plateau in his career. Jackson joins Frizzelle and Kazemi, who added 12 points and 14 rebounds, as members of the milestone club.
Facing last-place University of Alabama at Birmingham at home on Wednesday night, the Owls found themselves on the heartbreaking end of the buzzer-beating spectrum after an offensive letdown in the second half. Leading by as many as 17 points after the intermission, the Owls went without a field goal for almost 10 minutes as the Blazers whittled away to eventually take a late two-point lead with 2:58 left. After the teams exchanged empty possessions, freshman Dylan Ennis stole the ball and drove in for a layup with 36 seconds remaining, Rice's first bucket since the 10-minute mark, to tie the game at 51. After forcing a shot clock violation on defense, the Owls got the ball back with 1.5 seconds left, but a deep three from the weekend hero caught iron to send the game to overtime.
After going down by four early in the extra session, Rice answered back with five straight points from Frizzelle to take a one-point lead with two minutes left. After a free throw from UAB star Cameron Moore tied the game, Ennis went one of two from the line with just 22 seconds left to put Rice up one. Moore answered with a pair of free throws to put UAB up with 20 seconds left, setting the stage for another dramatic winner for the Owls. With Ennis running the point, the ball again went to the clutch Frizzelle, who delivered once again with a three to put Rice up 60-58 with under eight seconds left.
But with chaos ensuing following Frizzelle's basket, UAB elected to immediately play out the final seconds rather than take a timeout. What ensued was an open look at a three from sophomore Robert Williams, still looking for his first points of the game. Williams stepped into the jumper and drained the winning three at the buzzer, sinking the Owls in devastating fashion for their second straight home game. Rice scored just 17 points in the second half and four points in the last nine minutes as it fell to 11-8 overall and 2-2 in conference play.
"We had a letdown on defense, and it affected us offensively," Braun said of his team's offensive struggles in the second half. "We just have to maintain the defensive intensity. That's what triggered their run, a lapse on the defensive end."
Rice returns to play tomorrow at 7 p.m. at Tudor Fieldhouse against the University of Tulsa before traveling to take on the University of Memphis in the midweek.
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