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Men’s Basketball eliminated from AAC tournament in first round

The Owls fell 88-81 to Wichita State University in the first round of the AAC Men’s Basketball Tournament. Head coach Scott Pera was fired following the game, ending his seven year tenure at the helm of the program. Courtesy Rice Athletics

By Cadan Hanson     3/19/24 10:36pm

The Owls fell 88-81 to Wichita State University in the first round of the AAC Men’s Basketball Tournament. Head coach Scott Pera was fired following the game, ending his seven year tenure at the helm of the program.

On the same day that Rice women’s basketball won the American Athletic Conference tournament in their inaugural season, the No. 13 Rice men’s basketball team lost in the opening round of the men’s AAC tournament to the No. 12 Wichita State University Shockers, 88-81. 

Their loss encapsulated what was a disappointing season for the Owls, who went 11-21 overall and were tied for last in their debut season as members of the AAC.

 Following the loss, Rice Athletic Director Tommy McClelland announced the dismissal of head coach Scott Pera after seven seasons leading the Owls. Pera, who went 96-127 (0.430) at Rice over his career, leaves South Main as the third most-winning head coach in program history. In his last season, he led the Owls to an 11-21 record, his second-worst season in his Rice career.

The Owls stormed out to an early 15-4 lead behind a pair of threes from fifth-year senior Travis Evee. Rice extended the lead to as much as 13 at the 14-minute mark, but the Shockers went on a huge run, closing the gap and taking the lead with seven minutes left in the half. By the time the halftime horn sounded, the Shockers were up 13, 52-39. 

“What a seesaw,” Pera said. “We jumped on them early, we were really clicking on both sides of the ball. Then they got settled and made some shots and then closed the half like how we started. 

“Thirteen is such a big number to come back from because you spend so much energy doing that, and then every play becomes under a microscope down the stretch,” Pera added. “[Colby] Rogers hit some shots, credit to him and credit to Wichita.”

The Owls spent the first half of the second period chopping down the lead until a three-pointer from senior Alem Huseinovic gave the Owls the lead back with 11:07 left on the clock, 61-60. The remainder of the second half was tightly contested, with the lead staying within two scores until under two minutes left in the game when a pair of three-pointers by the Shockers sealed the coffin. 

“Basketball is a game of runs,” Evee said. “They’re great players over there, starting with Rogers. He made a lot of tough shots. I thought the defense was solid. We gave [Rogers] a couple of looks that we would want to have back, but they made some tough shots. I think we really stayed together, and focused our energy to climb back in it and weather that storm.”

The Owls performed above average offensively, shooting 52.7% from the field and 50% from beyond the arc. However, on defense, they were unable to stop the Shockers, who set an AAC Championship record shooting 72.4% from the field in the first half. 

The Owls were led by Evee with 24 points, sophomore guard Mekhi Mason with 22 of his own and Huseinovic with 15. Fifth-year senior Max Fiedler left it all out on the court in the final game of his career, contributing eight points, eight rebounds and a career-high 12 assists.

“Our leaders stepped up and everyone was focused,” Evee said. “They had built a lead to start the second half that we had to climb back from. Under six minutes, it was a one-point game so we were right where we wanted to be. We gave ourselves a chance to win this game.”

The early exit from the 2024 conference tournament marks the end of an era for the men’s basketball program. Additionally, the end of the season means that both fifth-year seniors, Evee and Fiedler, played their final collegiate basketball games.

“It’s been a great five years,” Fiedler said. “I’m super, super thankful for Rice University, Rice basketball and to a lot of really, really great people. I’m just super thankful to be a part of it.”

“This one is probably going to sting for a while. It’s not the way that we want it to go out, but I think in about a week or two, whenever this wears off, I’ll really be able to look back and really be thankful for everything that this university has given me,” Evee said. “I’m going to miss playing with these guys. I’m going to miss putting on the jersey and going to miss being in the locker room with these guys. Looking back on this in a couple of weeks, I’m going to be thankful for sure.”

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