Men's hoops falls in C-USA second round
After losing to Louisiana Tech University in the quarterfinals of the Conference USA tournament, the Rice men’s basketball team’s season came to an end. Rice ended the season 12-20 overall and 8-10 in conference play. The team’s record marks a large improvement over last year, when they finished 2-14 in conference play and 7-23 overall.
The Owls began slowly against the C-USA regular season champions Louisiana Tech and fell down by as many as 15 points in the first half. Louisiana Tech was able to start the game quickly, opening up on a 10-1 run that lasted just over three min- utes. The Owls, however, closed the gap to 10 points by halftime, trailing 35-25. They again fell down by 15 in the second half before closing the gap and coming to within three with 32 seconds to play. But the comeback came too late and Rice lost 70-64, eliminating them from the tournament and any postseason contention.
Senior forward Seth Gearhart led the team in scoring in the game, recording 16 points in 38 minutes of action in his last collegiate basketball game, including nine of 10 from the free throw line. Sophomore guard Marcus Jackson contributed 12 points on five of 11 shooting in the loss as well.
Mike Rhoades, who finished his first season as Rice’s head coach, said he was especially proud of the effort the players showed. Additionally, Rhoades said he had particular praise for the seniors, who played in their final games at Rice.
“I absolutely love my players and I love the fight they have,” Rhoades said. “We got down by 15 two different times and we just kept fighting. We had seniors out on the court playing for the last time and you could tell they didn’t want it to end.”
Rice previously defeated the University of North Texas in the first round of the tournament 82-54, the team’s largest margin of victory since 2011. The Owls had previously lost two regular season games against UNT. However, Jackson, who scored 28 points on 71 percent shooting from the field, helped lead the team to victory. Jackson also converted four of his six 3-point attempts in the win. The baskets gave Jackson 85 3-pointers on the season, good for sole possession of second place on Rice’s list of 3-pointers made in a season and just four shy of the all-time record held by Austin Ramljak’s 89 in the 2013-14 season.
Gearhart also contributed 10 points and nine rebounds. Although the Owls held only an eight-point lead at halftime, they quickly widened the lead in the second half, culminating in a 28-point victory.
Rhoades said the team improved its focus and execution in its third game against UNT.
“I thought we did a good job of sticking to the game plan and carrying some things over that we didn’t do the first two times we played into this game,” Rhoades said.
Against UNT, Rice recorded 17 assists on 29 field goals. According to Rhoades, team- work and a willingness to pass the basket- ball were essential to advancing past the first round.
“I thought we did a really good job sharing the basketball,” Rhoades said. “We have to play that way and we have to play through each other. [Jackson] did a really good job making plays down the stretch and helped us with the lead.”
According to Rhoades, everyone involved in the program, particularly the players, have helped improve Rice basketball’s prestige and reputation over the course of this season.
“I’m just so proud of Rice, the people I work for and my assistant coaches and, most importantly, these players,” Rhoades said. “We fought all year long, and we’re trying to change the culture, and I think we’ve done a good job of that in this first year.”
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