It wasn’t pretty, but Rice basketball found a way to grind out a home win against Middle Tennessee, improving to 1-1 in Conference USA play.
Eager to return to the court, Rice basketball opened the scoring with a jumper from Carl Pierre and quickly worked a five-point lead when Pierre and Travis Evee notched back-to-back layups. Few could have expected it at the time, but that would be the largest margin between these teams for the remainder of the first half and well into the second.
Following a drubbing at the hands of North Texas last time out, Rice found themselves in a 40-minute fistfight. Rice eased up on the three-ball in the second half, aware that things weren’t falling, head coach Scott Pera opted to go inside.
Middle Tennessee threw the first few punches, taking a four-point lead. But as had been the case for the entirety of the evening prior to the Blue Raiders’ run, the Owls would push back quickly. “We talked about driving the ball. We had them in foul trouble and that was the key, to get the ball in the paint,” Pera said adding with a laugh, “We had to adjust. It’s rare that I say to them ‘don’t shoot threes’.”
There wasn’t anything pretty about the seesawing scoreboard on Thursday night. Neither team was effective from the floor, turnovers appeared at inopportune times and any sort of rhythm seemed perpetually elusive.
Middle Tennessee would stretch their advantage to six. Rice would rally back. Things never really seemed comfortable, even after Pierre drained back-to-back threes late in the second half to give Rice a nine-point advantage in what had largely been a one-possession game. The contest dissolved into a free throw contest down the stretch before Rice closed out a 65-61 win.
“Just a tremendous gut-check win by our kids, there’s no other way to put it. Exhausted, running on fumes and refusing to give in, making a comeback and when they got the lead early in the second half, fighting back.”
Player Spotlight | Carl Pierre
Pierre recorded the first double-double of his career. He’s always been a scorer, but Pera said he’d challenged Pierre to rebound more when he arrived on campus. He reached 10 boards tonight, complimenting his team-high 19 points. He made two of the Owls’ five threes, both of which came late in the contest.
Stat Corner | Finding their stroke
Self-branded “Green Light U”, the three-point shot is inarguably the centerpiece of the Rice basketball offensive philosophy. Rice had attempted at least 20 triples in 10 of 12 games entering Thursday and continued to heave up deep balls despite more rim shots than usual.
Rice made two three-pointers in the first half, the second coming from Quincy Olivari with 9:56 to play before halftime. It wasn’t until the second half clock read 9:05 that Rice would make another. They’d finish with just five made threes on the night, their second-lowest total of the season — they convertED only three against North Texas last weekend.
To this point, Rice hadn’t won a game this year without making at least eight threes. On Thursday against MTSU, they proved to themselves they could win in other ways, a pivotal growth opportunity for this team. They failed to reach their usual production from downtown, but they made the shots when they needed to and walked away from Tudor Fieldhouse with a much-needed victory.
Final Box | Rice 65 – MTSU 61
FINAL | Rice 65 – MTSU 61 pic.twitter.com/0csDL6fMDG
— The Roost (@AtTheRoost) January 7, 2022
Up Next | Full Schedule
Rice basketball concludes the weekend homestand on Saturday against UAB. Next weekend they’ll hit the road for games at Western Kentucky on Thursday and Marshall on Saturday.
Photo credit Maria Lysaker
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