Rice basketball engineered a furious comeback, but couldn’t make the final defensive stop, falling to Southern Utah in the CBI Tournament.
Whether it was exhaustion, poor execution or just bad luck, Rice basketball started its quarterfinal round game against Southern Utah in a nine-point hole. SUU came out shooting extremely efficiently, knocking down 62 percent of their shots from the field in the first half as the Owls struggled immensely to get going.
“We just couldn’t make a shot,” head coach Scott Pera said in dismay. “We couldn’t make a shot, other than Travis [Evee].”
It was Evee who kept Rice afloat. He scored a team-high 18 points in the first half while his teammates scored 21 combined. Rice went into the break trailing 12, in desperate need of a rally that wouldn’t come for quite a long time.
“I was hoping the run would be at the 17-minute mark or the 14-minute mark or the 9-minute mark,” Pera said.
Instead, that run came in the final minutes of the game. Trailing by 14 points with 6:30 to play, Rice started to chip away. Quincy Olivari hit some free throws then Mekhi Mason made a three to make it a nine-point game. Olivari and Max Fiedler (twice) each converted and-one opportunities, offset by a few SUU free throws to make it a six-point game. Cam Sheffield cut the deficit to three.
Then, with 24 seconds on the clock and the season on the line, Evee delivered the game-tying three. Southern Utah would drain the clock down to its final seconds then connect on the go-ahead jumper. Olivari’s long heave at the buzzer did not go and despite erasing an unthinkable deficit, the Owls’ season still ended in bitter fashion.
Final Box | SUU 81 – Rice 79
FINAL | SUU 81 – @RiceMBB 79
Owls' season comes to an end in the CBI quarter finals. pic.twitter.com/ShZynjHgRF
— The Roost (@AtTheRoost) March 20, 2023
Key takeaway | Doomed by defense
A year ago, Rice basketball played in this same CBI Tournament in this same arena on this same court. Pera hasn’t forgotten because the image of last season’s CBI defeat is seared into his brain in much the same way this loss will be. After overcoming a late deficit, that time against Ohio, Rice watched the Bobcats hit the game-winner at the buzzer and end the Owls’ season.
“That’s two years in a row on the same basket,” Pera lamented.
This time around, Rice basketball doesn’t get to the final shot without several crucial defensive stops in the second half. It wasn’t all offense that fueled this comeback. That the bottom line remains the same. In back-to-back seasons Rice basketball has needed one final stop to prolong their season and they haven’t been able to do it.
In some respects, Pera is right when he credited his opponents and the player in question, Tevian Jones who ended with 30 points including that game-winner. “They made one more play. That kid made a heck of a shot,” Pera said. But the Owls are still going home.
If Rice basketball wants to be a championship-caliber program, they have to get drastically better on defense. They’ve proven time and time again they can find good shooters. They’ve proven they have the mental capacity to climb out of unthinkable holes. But they haven’t consistently been able to get the most important stop when their season depends on it. And now they’re going home.
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