Rice basketball rallied from an 18-point deficit on Friday night against Harvard, but could not finish the job, falling to the Crimson at home.
Days removed from a comprehensive drubbing of St. Thomas, Rice basketball was handed a much tougher challenge in their second game of the season. Harvard came out in a furry, delivering Rice their loudest wakeup call yet in their young season. From the opening score — a three ball from Chandler Pigge – throughout a barrage of Harvard baskets, Rice seemingly had no answer.
Harvard couldn’t miss early in this contest. The Crimson shot 51.6 percent in the first half, starting the game 6-for-9 from three. That onslaught would have been tough to keep pace with if the Owls were shooting well, but it wasn’t that kind of night for the home team. Rice opened the game 1-for-11 from three and struggled mightily from the floor.
“We got punched in the mouth out of the gate. I don’t know if it’s guys’ effort so much as if they’re not having success how they handle it internally,” Pera said. “I didn’t think our effort was bad. I thought our execution was bad, especially when we go the lead.”
The segue to that lead came with Rice trailing by a game-high 18 points in the first half. Pera called a timeout. The players settled down and responded with an 11-0 run. Reaching halftime trailing by only 10 points felt like a victory in itself.
At the halfway mark in the second half the game didn’t seem any closer. Rice trailed by 12 at the under-12-minute media timeout. Then, out of the timeout, Rice got to work. The 12-point deficit was vaporized. Over the course of the next three minutes, Rice thundered back to take the lead. It would not last.
Harvard found the plays in clutch moments whereas Rice was held without a field goal for more than four minutes before an inconsequential layup from Max Fiedler fell, accompanied by the muted applause of a full Tudor Fieldhouse. Rice falls to 1-1 with the loss.
“In every category that matters, they outplayed us,” Pera said.
Final Box | Harvard 89 – Rice 76
FINAL | Harvard 89, @RiceMBB 76
Owls erase an 18-point deficit, but can't hang on. Rice falls to 1-1 on the season. pic.twitter.com/I8dtGfE0Cr
— The Roost (@AtTheRoost) November 11, 2023
What They’re Saying
“If you can do it in practice, you gotta be able to do it in a game. It’s gotta transfer. I gotta figure out why that didn’t happen so that the next time we play, whether it’s Texas or Saint Thomas, we do what we’re supposed to do and what we work on. That is the frustration for me.” – Head coach Scott Pera.
Key takeaway | Defensive frustrations
Fair or not, the defense will be the first culprit assigned blame when Rice loses. To this point of Pera’s tenure, it’s been his largest vexation and the most frequent offseason talking point. And to his credit, Pera never promised — nor should onlookers have expected — a top-tier defensive unit. The aim was always to be competent enough and the offense would do the rest.
The bar was rather low. Rice lost their opening contest last season at Pepperdine 106-67. Keeping Harvard to a slightly more stomachable 89 points is technically an improvement, but the progress rings hollow when the result isn’t a win.
“In practice, we do the right things. It’s just effort, paying attention in games and locking in instead of having these little mental lapses,” guard Anthony Selden said. “Mental lapses at this level, teams are going to take advantage of it. I think we can’t afford to have little mental lapses every possession.”
The defense was better in stretches after half time. Rice doesn’t get back into this game without five key second half turnovers and two blocks to help spur their comeback bid. Ultimately, though, it was an inability to maintain that level of defensive intensity for more than a few possessions that sank the Owls on Friday night.
Three times in his postgame comments Pera used the word disappointing, frustrations evident from the loss. For coaches and players, the disconnect from practice to the game was agonizing. And they don’t have very long to figure it out. Rice plays Texas in four days’ time.
Pera’s message was crystal clear. “Forget about beating Texas or beating Harvard. Just play like we’re capable of playing. You have an opportunity then, because we have good enough players, that you’ll give yourselves a chance to win the games,” he said. But if you play like this for 30 minutes tonight, you’re not winning.”
Up Next: at Texas (Wed. Nov 15)
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