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Men's basketball struggles in West Texas

By Dan Elledge     2/4/14 6:00pm

The Rice Owls men's basketball team lost their first conference road games of the season 89-76 at the University of Texas, San Antonio on Thursday, Jan. 30 and 68-57 to the University of Texas, El Paso on Saturday, Feb. 1. With the losses, the Owls are now 6-15 overall and 1-7 in Conference USA play.

Head Coach Ben Braun said the team played some of its best basketball of the season against UTEP. Braun said he was impressed with the Owls' performance in the first half before the Miners stormed back in the last 20 minutes.

"I thought that was our best half of the year, going to UTEP and holding them to 21 points and 30 percent [shooting] from the field," Braun said. "Give UTEP credit; they are one of the top two teams in the league."

Freshman guard Marcus Jackson said the Owls were intimidated by the crowd noise, especially at the beginning of the second half, which threw the team off of its game. However, Jackson said the players will learn from this game and play better the next time they are in front of a hostile crowd.

"We did get a little rattled by the crowd when we turned the ball over," Jackson said. "The [fans] got loud, and we could not hear our coaches. It was definitely a learning experience to play in a crowd like that, but it definitely helped us grow. If we are in that situation again, we will come out on top."

Despite the noisy UTEP crowd, Jackson recorded a season high with 14 points. After missing a few games because of a minor leg injury, Jackson said he is getting back up to game speed. He said he is still disappointed with his shooting percentage, but believes it will improve soon.

"When I came back from the injury, I was slow until I got my quickness and stamina back up," Jackson said. "I am 100 percent now, which is good, and I think I am just getting back into the rhythm, so it's a lot easier for me. I will start making more of my shots now."

Braun said it has been great to have Jackson back on the court. He said Jackson is a major asset off the bench for the Owls who has helped on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor.

"It's good to see him healthy again," Braun said. "To get [Jackson] back is huge. We have been without [Jackson] for weeks, but to see him come back with a smile on his face and knocking down his shots is great. His defense has improved, and he is getting [his] stamina back."

The Owls will return to Tudor Fieldhouse to face the University of North Texas on Thursday, Feb. 6 and the University of Tulsa on Saturday, Feb. 8.

Braun said getting out to an early lead is important at home to build momentum and put pressure on the opponent. He said the team needs to be more consistent for the entire 40 minutes of a game.

"Getting off to a good start is always important for our team," Braun said. "I'd rather have a lead and work on ways to preserve it than constantly have to be down and catch up. We have had some good leads this year, and we need to work on our consistency. We think that's our biggest challenge: consistency from half to half, game to game."

Braun said he knows both coaches well and expects both the Mean Green and the Hurricane to put forth their best effort. Braun said the Owls better be ready to defend their home court.

"I have a lot of respect for the [men] that are coaching," Braun said. "[North Texas and Tulsa] play really hard, and our attention has to be up for these two games."

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