With the result hanging in the balance, late-game miscues cost Rice basketball a shot at their second win in conference play.
There was a lot to like from Rice basketball in the Owls’ most recent outing against UTEP. They held C-USA No. 2 scorer Bryson Williams to three points, kept the Miners to a woeful 5-of-28 from three and led late into the second half. It was a competitive game from start to finish, but Rice couldn’t close it out, falling to 1-7 in C-USA play.
Both teams started slow, missing a combined seven consecutive shots from the field before the scoring started. They traded narrow leads throughout the first half with neither side leading by more than two possessions. Up four with three minutes to play prior to the break, Rice allowed UTEP to close the half on a 6-0 run, narrowly preventing their first halftime lead since January 11 at FIU, their only prior C-USA win.
Ako Adams knocked down a three to start the second half, continuing a back-and-forth which lasted until the final minutes. Rice had done the big things right, executing their gameplan almost flawlessly. But they didn’t do the small things. That’s what ultimately cost them a very winnable game. Rice had not one, but two instances in the final moments of the game in which they failed to rebound off a missed free throw.
The first miscue gave UTEP a free possession which ended in two successful free throws, a three-point swing after the initial free throw to start the sequence. The second lapse allowed UTEP guard Daryl Edwards to secure a rebound off the front end of a 1-and-1, finishing with a layup and two free points after failing to convert from the line.
Head Coach Scott Pera was almost at a loss for words. “Those are plays you count on,” he said. That adds up.” UTEP’s largest lead of the day — 8 points — came with eight seconds to play in regulation. Most, if not all of that differential, can be explained by mental lapses from the Owls.
“They made winning plays,” Pera said. An apt summary of a game Rice basketball watched get away from them on their home court.
FINAL BOX | UTEP 72 – Rice 64 pic.twitter.com/WWHwb6JPq1
— The Roost (@AtTheRoost) January 24, 2020
Player of the Game – Robert Martin
Robert Martin hadn’t played since January 4 against Western Kentucky. He was the catalyst Rice needed off the bench in his return to action. He made his first four shots, including three from distance. “I thought he kickstarted us in the first half,” Pera said. “We were kind of stale with the offense and he made some buckets to get us going. It’s good to have him back on the court.”
Martin finished with a team-high 20 points, adding five rebounds and two assists.
Rice basketball hosts UTSA on Saturday, January 25 and doesn’t play against until February. They’ll have one more at home on February 1 against North Texas before returning to the road.
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