Rice basketball fell behind early, but caught fire when it mattered, upsetting Western Kentucky to earn a big road win.
A season ago, Rice basketball gave Western Kentucky a good half of a game at E.A. Diddle Arena in Bowling Green, KY. The second half, though, was all Hilltoppers, who seemed to have another gear the Owls just could not match. Rice got their road rematch with WKU on Thursday night and while it was indeed a tale of two halves, Rice made sure it was the second stanza that shouted the loudest.
It wouldn’t start pretty, though. Western Kentucky opened the game with a 10-0 explosion. With six minutes left in the first half, Rice trailed 29-16. The defense had held in key moments, but the offense hadn’t found its shooting stroke and was held without a field goal in the first 10 minutes of play. Nothing was falling… until it was.
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Trailing by 10 points at the break, Rice took off. The Owls shot a dismal 21.9 percent from the floor in the first half, making just five of 19 from three. “You’re not going to beat anyone shooting 21 percent,” head coach Scott Pera quipped post game, noting one important caveat “[In] previous years when we didn’t shoot well, it affected our defense. This group is different.”
Still in the game because of that defense, Rice started to catch fire. In the second half, Rice shot 58.1 percent from the floor and made nine of 15 three-pointers, including a sequence in which Travis Evee, Quincy Olivari and Cameron Sheffield went back-to-back-to-back to put Rice in front by seven under six minutes to play.
Western Kentucky lost their leading scorer Dayvion McKnight, but managed to tie the game up with 90 seconds to go. Rice would go up by one before Travis Evee made the defensive play of the night, stealing back the basketball and knocking down a pair of three throws to take a three-point lead with under 10 seconds to play. Rice would hold on and clinch Pera’s first ever win over the Hilltoppers.
Player Spotlight | Travis Evee
Part of last season’s prolific scoring duo with Carl Pierre, Evee had taken somewhat of a secondary spot behind Quincy Olivari early on this season. Olivari had been hot and Evee had done his job, getting the ball in his hands. But it always felt like just a matter of time before Evee — who hadn’t reached the 20-point mark since November 21 — was going to go off again.
Evee led all scorers with 24 points and was a perfect 8-for-8 from the charity stripe, including a pair of game-sealing shots down the stretch. He also added six rebounds and five assists. It was his best performance of the season and the Owls wouldn’t have been able to do what they did without him on the court on Thursday night.
Final Box | Rice 81 – WKU 78
FINAL | @RiceMBB 92 – North American 54 pic.twitter.com/W1uirJJHfQ
— The Roost (@AtTheRoost) December 15, 2022
Up Next | Full Schedule
Rice basketball will finish 2022 with a New Year’s Eve tilt in the desert against UTEP, the second and final game of their current road trip. That game is scheduled for a 3:00 p.m. tip-off on CUSAtv.
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