Rice Basketball overcame a 22-point deficit but faltered down the stretch, dropping their C-USA home opener to FAU to remain winless in conference play.
Five missed shots to start the game proved to be a bad omen for a Rice basketball team that has grown all too accustomed to playing from behind. Rice has faced double-digit deficits in each of its first two conference games. They were down by 11 in the first 10 minutes of their third C-USA contest.
Rice would trail by as many as 22 points after watching their nine-point halftime deficit balloon on a 15-2 FAU run to open the second half. It was at that point during the first media timeout of the second half that head coach Scott Pera stepped away from the huddle. The entire coaching staff stood aside while the team held an impromptu players-only meeting on the side of the court.
“This is their team. This is their program,” Pera said, “So if they get maybe punched in the mouth a little bit, they need to talk through it and be able to pull each other up together and hold each other accountable.”
Accountability sank in quickly. Over the span of the next half hour, Rice went on two big runs, whittling down the deficit to single digits before taking a 68-67 lead with 4:20 to play. This was the second time this season Rice had erased a 22-point deficit. The first came on the road against UC Santa Barbara. The Owls were able to hold on and win that game. They were less fortunate against FAU.
Guard Cornelius Taylor had a career-high 34 points, seven of which came after Rice had taken their brief lead. To come back from that far and not find a way to finish was heartbreaking for a young team still trying to find its way.
Pera didn’t mince words. “It hurts and you want to hurt. It’s gotta hurt. Because if it doesn’t hurt, then then it doesn’t matter enough,” he said, “I want them to feel it. I feel it, my staff feels it. We’re competitive people.”
Rice basketball has competed well this season but their consistency leaves much to be desired. The Owls have not been shooting well of late. When the shots aren’t falling, the defensive effort seems to loosen. Bad becomes worse just as quickly as good becomes better. Pera notices the same thing, citing a lack of maturity that is slowly being built over time. On nights like Thursday, that process is more painful to swallow.
FINAL BOX | FAU 81 – Rice 76 pic.twitter.com/FrdwCmdmYI
— The Roost (@AtTheRoost) January 10, 2020
Player of the game – Drew Peterson
The development of Drew Peterson has been a bright spot this season. “I just feel really comfortable out there,” he said, crediting his growth to the belief his teammates have in him and the work he put in during the offseason. The results have been encouraging. He led the team on Thursday with 15 points, despite shooting just 5-of-14 from the field and 1-of-7 from three. He was a bit more erratic with the ball than he needs to be, but his willingness to push his teammates helped jump-start two important Rice rallies.
Rice hosts Western Kentucky on Saturday. The Hilltoppers entered conference play 8-3. The Owls last faced WKU in the Conference USA Tournament, beating them in a tightly contested game, 64-57.