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Friday, March 24, 2023 — Houston, TX

MBB hosts UNT with chance to prove they’re one of C-USA’s best

Photo courtesy Rice Athletics

By Pavithr Goli     1/31/23 10:36pm

Currently in third place, the Rice men’s basketball team will have a chance to prove they belong among Conference USA’s best this weekend when they host the University of North Texas on Saturday at Tudor Fieldhouse. 

The two teams faced off in Denton just two weeks ago, when the Owls grabbed a 72-60 win. Sophomore forward Cameron Sheffield said that the last matchup was much closer than the final score suggested, and the Owls will need to get off to a faster start if they hope to sweep their conference rivals.

“We were lucky to get away with the win last time,” Sheffield said. “We played [well] defensively, [but] we struggled a bit to start the game … It’s going to be a great matchup, we’re all excited about it.”

The Mean Green enter the game at 18-5 overall and 9-3 in conference play. They are led by guard Tylor Perry, an all-conference selection last year who ranks fourth in the conference in scoring this season. Outside of Perry, the North Texas offense has struggled this season, averaging a conference-worst 61.8 points. According to Sheffield, the Owls’ improved defense will be key to shutting down Perry and the UNT attack.

“I feel like one of our improved strengths is defense,” Sheffield said. “I know that in the past, we kind of struggled with that. But that’s been at the forefront of our minds this year. We’ve been working on that since June in the summer. So I feel like that’s become one of our strengths recently.”

However, if Rice wants to topple their in-state rival on Saturday, they’ll also have to break down a defense that allows a conference-best 54.7 points-per-game – seven points better than any other team in C-USA and the second-best mark in the entire country. Head coach Scott Pera believes that the Owls’ ability to share the ball gives their offense a leg-up against most opponents.

“Well, I think one of our biggest strengths is [that] we share the ball,” Pera said. “We have guys who care about each other. They’re a connected group. They want to see each other do well, and so we do a really good job of sharing the ball with each other” 

The Owls, whose 15-6 record has them one win away from tying their most wins in a season under Pera, are not letting their strong start go to their heads. According to Pera, the team understands that the most important part of the season lies ahead of the team.

“Up to this point, I think the guys have done a really good job, you know, but it’s all about playing our best in February and March,” Pera said. “That’s what we’re always trying to build towards. So we’re excited about the opportunity, and hopefully, we can keep it within our [reach].”

The game tips off at 7 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPN+.

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