A stout defensive performance propelled Rice basketball over Pepperdine in decisive fashion to lift the Owls’ to 1-0 on their young season.
There wasn’t much about the early goings of the Rice basketball season opener against Pepperdine that seemed unusual. The Owls hit the first shot of the game, a triple from Carl Pierre, then knocked down two more threes in what appeared to be the beginnings of a back-and-forth game the likes of which had been played at Tudor Fieldhouse time and time again
In those games, Rice would shoot the lights out and try as hard as they could to muster enough stops on defense to hang on. Things seemed to be trending towards those same ‘ol Owls on Tuesday night, right up until the halftime buzzer. Then something shifted.
With Chris Mullins — who head coach Scott Pera point-blank referred to as the team’s best defensive player — sidelined with a finger injury suffered early in the game, the Rice defense clamped down. The Owls allowed seven points in the first 10 minutes of the second half, rattling off a 28-7 run which turned a close game into a rout. They didn’t ease up much at all the rest of the way, limiting Pepperdine to a pedestrian 35.4 percent shooting from the field.
“We defended. We defended for 40 minutes and that was the difference,” Pera said emphatically after the game.
That refrain matches the chorus sung by Pera and his players last week during preseason media availability. Back at that time this team made it crystal clear they’d’ been exerting the majority of their efforts on getting better on that side of the court. Against Pepperdine, that attention to detail showed.
Again, Pera echoed “[Defense is] certainly the emphasis. Things become important when it’s on the front of your mind, and it’s on the front of our guys’ minds, it’s been since June.” And now, Rice has taken those ideas and made them a reality.
Rice shot 35.5 percent from three against Pepperdine. Preseason All-Conference honoree Quincy Olivari did not make any of his three attempts, battling through a wrist injury. It was a fine night from distance, but not one that this “Green Light U” squad is going to write home about. This is a team that can and has shot 40 percent, even 45 or 50 percent from three.
But even on a mediocre shooting night from three, this iteration of Rice basketball won by 19 points. When asked what this team might be capable of on a good shooting night from distance, Pera couldn’t suppress a grin, before letting out this subtle promise: “When we’re healthy and we’re really cooking, we will put on a show some nights.”
Player Spotlight | Noah Hutchins
Travis Evee led all Rice scorers with 24 points and six made three-pointers, but it was a surprise 13 minutes from Noah Hutchins that proved to be particularly intriguing. Hutchins only returned to practice this past week after recovering from an injury of his own, but he was thrust into meaningful minutes when Mullins went down.
Hutchins ended with a +4 plus/minus, largely because he happened to not be on the court during much of the Owls’ decisive second-half run, but he did settle things down when he entered, helping lead the charge on some key sequences. With Mullins’ status for the Houston game unknown, Rice could lead on Hutchins more in the near future. He acquitted himself well in his debut.
Final Box | Rice 82 – Pepperdine 63
FINAL | Rice 82 – Pepperdine 63 pic.twitter.com/b5dymJQHd2
— The Roost (@AtTheRoost) November 10, 2021
Up Next | Full Schedule
Rice basketball will hit the road for a short trip across town on Friday when they’ll visit the University of Houston to take on the Top 15 Cougars at the Fertitta Center, where they narrowly escaped an upset at the hands of Hofstra on Tuesday. Tip-off for that game is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. It will be available for streaming on ESPN+. After that, Rice returns home on Tuesday, November 16 to host Southern.