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Wednesday, December 06, 2023 — Houston, TX

‘Rice of the North’ spoils MBB opening weekend

By Cadan Hanson     11/14/23 11:11pm

Last Friday, Rice Men’s Basketball hosted Harvard University in the second game of their season. Despite a late comeback, the Owls were unable to overcome an early 18-point deficit and lost to the “Rice of the North,” 76-89.

“All the credit goes to Harvard,” head coach Scott Pera said. “I thought they played a really good game from start to finish. They were the better team out of the gate. They were the better team down the stretch. Their players made plays when they needed them most. In every category that matters, they outplayed us.”

The Owls struggled right from the opening tip. The Crimson jumped out to an early 13-4 lead in the first three minutes of regulation. The Owls tried to chip away at their deficit but the Crimson responded with a run of their own, extending the lead to 40-22 with four minutes in the half. 

The Owls struggled on both ends of the ball in the first 20 minutes of the game, especially on the offensive side. The Owls shot 36% from the field in the first half and converted only 37% of their free throws. After the game, Pera said that his team’s shooting struggles were uncharacteristic. 

“Missing free throws, it’s hard to explain that,” Pera said. “We’re really good shooters, and we’re at home but we missed free throws. How do you explain that? I don’t know, unless their minds weren’t in the right place because they were losing. Those are things we’ve got to be better at.”

Rice’s offense was strong in the previous game when the Owls defeated St. Thomas University 101-57 in the season opener. The Owls shot for 54% from the field, with 13 players in the points column and four scoring double digits. 

The Owls started the second half against Harvard down 10, 43-33. After the under-12-minute media timeout, the Owls began to chip away at the lead, led by seven points from graduate transfer Anthony Selden. With eight minutes left, a three-pointer from senior guard Travis Evee gave Rice a two-point lead, their first of the game. 

According to Selden, the Owls have the right pieces to be able to make plays like they did in their second-half comeback but had trouble sustaining the success on Friday.

“We have some of the best players in the conference and the country, one of the best big men in the country and one of the best point guards in the country,” Selden said. “I think we can turn it on whenever we want, but the problem is we have to keep it on.”

During the under-eight-minute media timeout, “safety school” chants rang through the rafters. When the teams returned to the court, Harvard quickly took the lead with a pair of baskets. Later, with the Owls down three, a quick 7-0 run by the Crimson following a pair of missed free throws extended the lead to 10, which they rode out to an 89-76 victory.

“I feel like defensive intensity wasn’t there,” Selden said. “We ran back too easy, allowed too easy of post catches, not enough ball pressure, a step late on everything. I know we’re capable of better but instead of flicking it on and off whenever we want, we need to keep it on the whole game.”

Offensively, sophomore guard Mekhi Mason led the Owls with 20 points, with Selden contributing 18 in his second game as a Rice Owl. Defensively, the Owls struggled to stop the Crimson, allowing them to shoot over 50% from the field. Overall, Pera expressed his frustration with the performance. 

“We got punched in the mouth out of the gate,” Pera said. “Our guys did not show up. And if you don’t show up, it’s hard to win. Defensively, we have a hard time guarding guys in space. At the end of the day they out-rebounded us, they had more assists than us, they shot better from the floor, they shot better from the foul line.”

Looking ahead, the Owls begin a four-game road stretch with, arguably, their most difficult matchup of the non-conference schedule as they face No. 19 University of Texas at Austin on Wednesday at 8 p.m. Despite the rough showing, Selden believes that the team is on the verge of something great.

“I think this team could be really, really good once we lock in and figure it out,” Selden said. “It’s gonna take all of us, from the coaching staff all the way to the managers. I think that once we all figure that out, once you get cohesion within the team, we’re going to be really, really unstoppable.”

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