Rice basketball took care of business in their season opener, cruising past St. Thomas to improve to 1-0 in their inaugural campaign as AAC members.
As it has for the past several years, the 2023-2024 Rice Basketball season began with Max Fiedler at midcourt going up for the ball before distributing it to his teammates. Fiedler won the tip, dished it to Anthony Seldon who hit a jumper to give Rice an early lead. The problem, however, was that it did not last long.
Initially ahead 4-0, Rice allowed seven unanswered points from St. Thomas to fall behind before the first media timeout. Whether it was rust or nerves, it didn’t last long.
“It was good to get their attention a little bit, right? This is an older group. Max [Fiedler] and Travis [Evee] aren’t going to panic,” Pera said of that brief deficit. “Adversity is going to be a good thing for us.”
From then on, the rout was on. Rice took care of the basketball, committing zero turnovers in the first half and just five total turnovers in the game. Combine that with a 52.8 percent shooting performance from the floor and 14 made threes made for easy work of their intra-city foe.
“Really fun to get out there and play one that counts,” head coach Scott Pera said.
Max Fiedler finished with a double-double, notching 16 points and 11 boards. That’s come to be expected at this point. Seeing a strong debut from the likes of Sam Alajiki (who went a perfect 5-for-5 from three) and Noah Shelby (14 points) was a nice bonus.
Final Box | Rice 101 – St. Thomas 57
— The Roost (@AtTheRoost) November 8, 2023
What They’re Saying
“I come into every game the same way. I’m trying to guard first and rebound and then whatever comes on the offensive end comes. When the ball got to me early, I made a few shots. It kept flowing and I felt good about it, so I just kept shooting the ball.” – Sam Alajiki
Key takeaway | Depth will be key
Absent a near-historic defensive performance like the Rice women’s basketball team was able to display on Monday night, there was never going to be too much to draw on from this game against St. Thomas. The bigger, more physical and more talented Owls handled their visitors with relative ease, as would have been expected in a matchup like this. More games are coming to test the defense.
No, the most compelling storyline from Tuesday night’s victory was the depth Rice was able to put onto the court and when they used it. Emptying the benches late in the second half of a runaway game doesn’t take much guts. Pera didn’t wait for the curtain call, though, he rotated through 10 players in the first half alone, giving non-trivial minutes to bench assets he intends to rely on more heavily this season.
“We had stretched of playing really good and I think what you saw, you saw the depth tonight. I thought Alem and Sam really sparked us in the first half and blew the game open,” Pera said.
Everyone that was healthy played. 13 different players scored. Seven non-starters played at least seven minutes. It was everything you could have hoped to see from a bench in a season opener. Rice is going to need these guys as the season progresses. They showed out well.
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