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Men's basketball 1-1, traveling to Temple next

By Ryan Glassman     11/15/12 6:00pm

After an offseason that could not end soon enough, the first game of the regular season failed to provide much solace for Head Coach Ben Braun and the Rice University men's basketball team.

The Owls were stunned by St. Thomas University in their season opener, falling 72-59 at Tudor Fieldhouse to a non-Division I opponent last Saturday night. St. Thomas (2-0) is a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, a college athletics association independent of the NCAA that serves as the governing body for approximately 350 small-college athletics programs in the United States, according to the NAIA's website. 

In his post-game press conference Braun was complimentary of the effort put forth by St. Thomas in the opener. 

"[It was] obviously a tough opener for us, but give St. Thomas a lot of credit," Braun said. "They came out and did a good job with the veterans on their team. They've got some guys that have been together for a couple of years."

As expected, Braun started sophomores Julian DeBose and Seth Gearhart along with senior guard Tamir Jackson on opening night. Joining the team's three returning players in the starting five were freshmen Ross Wilson and Max Guercy, two of six newcomers to a roster that went through the departure of six key rotation players during a turbulent offseason.

The young Owls got off to a quick start when a three-pointer from Jackson, who scored a team-high 13 points in the game, put Rice ahead 10-5 in the game's first five minutes. But Rice went cold from behind the arc following Jackson's basket, missing on each of its next eight three-point shots in the half. The veteran St. Thomas team took advantage of Rice's poor shooting and lack of size, mounting a 25-7 run before taking a 34-21 lead into the locker room at halftime. 

The Owls got off to a quick start in the second half, when Jackson's jump shot brought the team to within eight at the 17:40 mark. After the two teams exchanged baskets, another three-pointer from freshman Nizar Kapic made it a 51-42 game in favor of the visitors with just over 12 minutes left in the game. But as was the case in the first half, Rice once again started to struggle with its shooting, making just one of its next nine shots, including six straight misses from behind the three-point line. The Celts extended their lead to as many as 18 with under five minutes left as they eventually cruised to the upset 72-59 victory. The Owls shot a poor 36.7 percent from the field in the game, including a paltry 6-28 from the three-point line.

Despite the loss, Braun praised the mental composition of the team and its ability to put the loss behind it.

"We've got high-character guys on our team," Braun said. "Our guys will bounce back. This is one game. It's important that we put that in perspective."

For Rice, the shocking defeat illustrates the series of growing pains the inexperienced team will be subject to over the course of the season. Against a St. Thomas team lacking the personnel to exploit Rice's size deficiency, the Owls still attempted more than half of their shots from behind the three-point line and were outscored 30-18 in the paint. Shot selection will improve as the team's newcomers get up to speed with the collegiate game, but offensive weapons will have to quickly emerge for the team to be able to compete against bigger and more talented teams in the upcoming weeks. 

The team took a step in the right direction Wednesday night with a 75-63 victory over St. Edwards University. Despite trailing by double-digits early in the game, the Owls were able to put together a 22-2 run spanning the end of the first half and beginning of the second half to take a lead they would never relinquish.

The Owls play on the road against Temple University tomorrow, a team with NCAA tournament appearances in four of the last five seasons, the competition will only grow tougher for a young Owls squad off to a disappointing start to the 2012-13 season.

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