Men’s basketball misses opportunity to knock off second place LA Tech
Last Thursday, the Rice men’s basketball team traveled to the Thomas Assembly Center in Ruston, LA to face off against then conference co-leaders, Louisiana Tech University. The Bulldogs defeated the Owls 80-63 in the first matchup between the two squads this season. The Bulldogs were able to sustain an Owls push at the beginning of the game and put together several significant runs to put the game out of reach. According to head coach Scott Pera, the Owls played with plenty of effort, but weren’t consistent enough.
“We only played well in stretches,” Pera said. “The beginning stretch was very good. Our kids kept fighting to cut it to [nine] and I’m really proud of that. Our effort was really good. Our discipline with the ball was really good.”
Held to a 32.8 field goal percentage and 15.4 percentage from three-point range, the Owls struggled shooting the ball against a stout defense. The poor shooting, according to Pera, played a key role in the Owls’ loss.
“We just couldn’t make a shot,” Pera said. “We had some guys who have produced for us a lot and didn’t produce [tonight]. That makes it really difficult to beat anybody, let alone one of the best teams on their home floor. We had to play a really good game to beat them.”
Rice led for much of the opening ten minutes, but a 19-3 LA Tech run in the closing minutes of the first half gave the Bulldogs a big lead going into halftime. Rice was able to narrow the deficit to nine at one point, but a late LA Tech push brought their lead back to 17 and seasled the game. According to graduate transfer guard Carl Pierre, the energy that the Owls started off with and their overall defensive effort are some positives that they can take away from the game.
“I think we really wanted to come out with energy and play hard,” Pierre said. “That is something that Coach Pera talked about a lot. To start the game, I think we did that. We really put our hat on the defensive end and I think it showed a little bit. At the end though, it just didn’t go our way.”
Some of the other positives that the Owls had, according to Pera, included limiting turnovers against a strong defensive unit along with the team’s ability to gather offensive rebounds.
“The other positive is that we only had eight turnovers on the road against a very good defensive team and sixteen offensive rebounds, meaning our kids were playing hard the whole time,” Pera said. This helped us come back.”
The loss dropped their conference record to 4-4 on the season. However, they followed it up with a 76-62 win against the University of Southern Mississippi on Saturday to get back above .500. With 10 games left in the regular season, the Owls will mainly face off against their conference rivals as they aim to qualify for the Conference USA Tournament in early March. As the team enters the home stretch of their season, they are finding ways to improve so that they can end the campaign on a high note.
According to Pera, the team could most improve by focusing on their energy, especially in the road environment. Although the team started off strong, Pera said that he wants the team to be able to keep this energy high throughout the game.
“You have to play for forty minutes on the road,” Pera said. “The energy is with the home team most of the time. We have to provide our own energy. We have to withstand runs a little bit better and we just have to play defense for forty minutes.”
Pierre emphasized the need to limit runs from opposing offenses to prevent games from getting out of hand.
“I think the biggest thing for us is, rather than letting runs get to 11-2 or 13-2, we need to keep the runs to be at 5-2 or 7-2 and just stopping other team’s runs,” Pierre said.
The Owls, who are currently 12-8 and have a 5-4 conference record, return to action at home this Thursday at 7 p.m. when they face off against the University of Texas, San Antonio. The Roadrunners are 8-14 overall and 1-7 against conference opponents.
More from The Rice Thresher
On Thursday, sophomore distance runner Grace Forbes proved to the rest of the country what her Conference USA opponents and Rice teammates have known for years – she’s one of the fastest runners in the country. Competing at the NCAA championships in Eugene, Ore. for the second consecutive year, Forbes, took second place in the 10,000-meter, the best finish by an Owl at the NCAAs in over a decade. According to Forbes, who missed the indoor season and the first month of the outdoor season due to extreme fatigue later diagnosed as an autoimmune disorder, the result was a testament to the work she’s put in to overcome an incredibly challenging year.
Five Owls will be heading to next week’s NCAA outdoor track and field championships, after qualifying at the NCAA West Preliminaries which ran May 25 through 28. Headlining the meet for Rice was sophomore distance-runner Grace Forbes, who took first place in the 10,000 meters for the second consecutive year. Forbes will be joined in Eugene, Ore., by sophomore thrower Tara Simpson-Sullivan, junior thrower Erna Gunnarsdottir, senior thrower James McNaney and sophomore vaulter Alex Slinkman. Jon Warren, head coach of the men’s track and field program, said that he was impressed not only by the five qualifiers, but by all 13 Owls who participated over the course of the week in Fayetteville, Ark.
The Conference USA outdoor track and field championships saw Rice’s men’s team place third with 121 points — their best conference championship performance since 2005 — and the women’s team place fifth with 88 points. According to men’s head coach Jon Warren, he was proud to see the work his team put in all season be on full display at the meet.