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Men’s basketball drops two to bottom-five AAC opponents

Senior guard Travis Evee drives to the hoop during the Rice men’s basketball game against Wichita State University on March 2. The Owls are now 11-18 overall and 5-11 in AAC play. Courtesy Rice Athletics

By Cadan Hanson     3/5/24 10:34pm

Rice men’s basketball dropped a pair of games last week, losing 43-65 to Temple University Feb. 28, then 87-66 to Wichita State University March 2. The pair of losses terminated their two-game winning streak, dropping the Owls to 11-18 (5-11 in AAC). 

The losses followed a pair of wins the week prior — one of them against the University of Alabama at Birmingham, who ranked third in the American Athletic Conference at the time. 

Rice now sits 10th in the AAC standings. After the Wichita State loss, head coach Scott Pera was disappointed with the losses but reiterated his confidence in his team. 

“We caught two teams that were really hot and shot the lights out against us,” Pera said. “We’re just going to get back to the drawing board. It takes a team to stay together through adversity, to not fracture, to stay with the leadership that Max [Fieldler] at Travis [Evee] have provided throughout the year. We’ll lean on those guys and we’ll do our part as coaches to make sure we let them know we believe in them.”

Wednesday’s battle of the Owls was a rematch of the Jan. 20 matchup where the blue and gray left Pennsylvania with a three-point win, 69-66. This time, however, Rice was slow out of the gate, only scoring 19 in the first half, foreshadowing the slow offensive performance for the whole evening. 

Rice shot 25.9% from the floor and just 6.7% from beyond the arc, only making one three-pointer on the night. Rice stayed close to Temple for the majority of the first half but, in a similar fashion to the theme of the season, fell behind quickly in the second half, eventually losing by 22.

On Saturday, the Owls traveled to Kansas for a conference battle with the Wichita State Shockers. The Owls held a lead halfway through the first quarter thanks to a 12-2 run fueled by freshman forward Keanu Dawes. 

After going into the half down three, 42-39, the Owls fell victim to long runs of hot shooting from the Shockers which extended Wichita State’s lead. The biggest factor of the night was the Owl defense’s inability to curb the Shockers’ sharpshooting. Wichita State shot 52.6% from the field and an impressive 63.6% from three, making 14 from beyond the arc. 

Fifth-year senior guard Travis Evee emphasized how the defense needed to play better for the entirety of the evening.

“I thought we played solid, but obviously not good enough,” Evee said. “Wichita [State] hit a lot of shots, a couple contested ones, but our defense wasn’t good enough for 40 minutes. We have to get back to playing defense for 40 minutes to give us a chance to win these games.”

On Saturday, Evee was able to bounce back from a tough shooting night on Wednesday with a team-leading 18 points. Sophomore guard Mekhi Mason contributed 12 of his own with a team-high five assists while Dawes, who connected with two of his own triples, scored a dozen. 

Despite a change in the rotation a few games prior, where Pera replaced Dawes with sophomore Andrew Akuchie in the starting lineup, Dawes has still been a strong contributor, Pera said on the Rice Owls Basketball Coaches Show.

“He played [against Wichita] with confidence, made shots, and played really well in the first half,” Pera said. “You’re seeing flashes of what you’re going to see from him in years to come.  He’ll still have big games for the rest of the year but when he puts it in another offseason, you’re going to see this kid blossom into a really, really good player.”

The Owls will take the court next on Wednesday, March 6 when they travel to North Carolina to take on the Charlotte 49ers. Rice lost the previous matchup in January 81-79 after a controversial no-call on Evee’s buzzer-beater attempt at the end of overtime. 

“Going into the Charlotte game, I’ll say there’s a little bit of bad taste in the mouth from the last one,” Evee said. “We want to get this one right so we have to be on high alert.”

The Owls will finish their regular season against the University of North Texas at home for senior night on March 9. According to Evee, with March rolling around and the conference tournament looming in two weeks, it’s time for Rice to lock in.

“We have to be on high alert, not just for this upcoming game, but for the games to come,” Evee said. “If we’re on high alert and the intensity is high and everything is flowing well, then I think we’ll keep playing good ball down the stretch.”

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