Men’s basketball starts hot, loses five straight
The Rice men’s basketball team dropped two games this past weekend, both to the University of North Texas, as their record fell to 10-8. Following these losses, the Owls have now lost five games in a row. In order to break this losing streak, head coach Scott Pera said his team needs to fix some mistakes to get back on track.
“We just need to be a little bit tougher with the ball,” Pera said. “We turned the ball over a little bit too much and we have been right there in every game, leading in the second half in four [out of the five] games [we lost].”
However, Pera said he is still quite hopeful about the trajectory of the remainder of the season.
“[We have] started four sophomores and a freshman in a couple of games,” Pera said. “Hopefully, that experience will help us [moving forward].”
Despite their recent struggles, the Owls’ season got off to a strong start. Beginning their season against University of the Incarnate World on Thanksgiving weekend, the Owls flew to a very hot beginning to the season, winning their first four games. They finished their non-conference schedule with a record of 6-2. Five games into conference play, the Owls were 10-3. According to Pera, the team’s chemistry fueled their strong start.
“I think we have a really good group of kids that really like playing with each other and we noticed that in the preseason and how well they shared the ball,” Pera said. “That carried over into the season and we got a good start in the league.”
Part of having a season during a pandemic is the potential loss of players for games at a time due to contract tracing and exposure. Pera and the Owls have learned this lesson the hard way, as multiple players have missed recent games due to COVID-19 protocols as few players on the team tested positive. According to Pera, these absences have allowed younger players to receive unplanned opportunities.
“It is unfortunate when [COVID-19] affects our team, but it has also provided growth for our group,” Pera said. “It has given the other guys a lot of experience as we move the program forward as we continue to grow it.”
Specifically, freshmen Cameron Sheffield and Mylyjael Poteat have both received a plethora of playing opportunities after replacing older players who tested positive for COVID-19. Sheffield has seen a spike in his playing time, averaging 22.6 minutes per game including two starts over the past five games while never exceeding that mark in the first 12 games of the season. Similarly, Poteat has also seen a sharp increase in playing time after returning from an injury that sidelined him for the first 10 weeks of the season.
Even with this spike in playing time, jumping into college athletics in the midst of a pandemic has greatly impacted the normal development of the freshmen. According to Pera, the pandemic has changed the way that the freshmen have been able to adjust to the new level of competition in the NCAA.
“It has affected the freshmen’s development a lot because they missed a whole summer [of training],” Pera said. “It's just been really hard for the freshman to get acclimated, but we are in a position now with Cameron and Mylyjael where they’re going to help us and they’re going to play a lot of minutes down the stretch.”
Despite the challenges that the team has faced, Coach Pera is optimistic about the rest of the season.
“We hope to get everyone back here soon because when we are at full strength, we think we are a pretty dangerous team,” Pera said. “But if not, we are going to try and still be dangerous with the guys that we have because of how hard they have been working.”
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