Rice basketball avenged a pair of close losses with a big home win, closing strong in the second half to take down Middle Tennessee at Tudor Fieldhouse.
“Tonight they wanted to prove that what happened before was a fluke.” A little bit of angst, tinged with relief, could be heard through head coach Scott Pera following his team’s 79-68 win over Middle Tennessee on Thursday night at Tudor Fieldhouse. This marked the third consecutive game in which Rice had held a double-digit lead in the second half, but this performance was different. Unlike in the final moments against UTEP and North Texas, they finished.
Rice trailed Middle Tennessee (now 5-15) by four points at halftime. The Owls had been out-rebounded 24-17. They’d shot a meager 27.3 percent from three and converted on five of nine free throws. It was a slow start against won of the least successful teams in Conference USA. They needed to kick it into gear, and they did.
Both teams traded blows in the second half. Rice went on a 9-0 run. A few minutes later Middle Tennessee responded with an 8-0 run. Then, in the minutes following the under-8:00 minute media timeout, Rice scored 13 unanswered points, turning a 1-point deficit into a 15-point advantage.
“We showed some maturity. We showed some growth,” Pera remarked knowingly after the game. His confidence shone clear. This team has plenty to work on, but finally healthy in front of their home crowd, they seem to be putting all the pieces together.
Player of the Game – Trey Murphy
For the second game in a row, Trey Murphy was the catalyst for this young squad. It was his fourth three-pointer of the night which gave Rice their final lead of the game. The deciding shot was also his 18th point of the game, tying a career high set his last time out against North Texas.
“We knew that we had to play harder and give it 40 minutes, not 34 minutes or 36 minutes, an entire 40 minutes,” Murphy said emphatically following the game. It comes as no surprise then, that Murphy’s three-point shot which started the final push fell with just a little after 33 minutes of the game clock had expired.
Murphy’s shooting stroke is starting to settle in. That bodes well for Rice moving forward.
Up Next – UAB
UAB rallied from a half time deficit to knock out North Texas in Denton on Thursday night. The Blazers move to 13-7 on the season and 5-2 in Conference USA, locking themselves into a four-way tie for second place in the conference. If Rice wants to make a push up the ranks, they’ll need to get past UAB on Saturday.
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