Rice basketball fell behind early before thundering back, riding their defense rather than their shooting to a win over Houston Christian.
Alem Huseinovic opened the game with a jumper that drew applause from the assembled crowd at Tudor Fieldhouse, but onlooking fans wouldn’t have much to cheer from for the next several sequences up and down the court. A brief Rice basketball lead evaporated and the Owls quickly found themselves playing catch up on their own court.
Houston Christian pounced on Rice from that first shot, climbing to a 25-12 lead at the under-eight media timeout and putting some pressure on the home team to find a way to settle down and avoid a disastrous loss.
Down by 13 on a day when they shot just 25 percent from three, Rice made three of the five triples they would convert for the entire game over the course of the next six minutes. A large deficit turned into a tie game, opening the door for a second-half rally.
Rice went on a 22-8 run to start the second half, leaning on their defense rather than their shot making ability to flip the script and build a double-digit lead of their own. HCU would climb back within five, but a few clutch shots from Huseinovic, Max Fiedler and Keanu Dawes kept them at bay and allowed the Owls to secure a hard-fought home win.
Final Box | Rice 65 – HCU 56
— The Roost (@AtTheRoost) December 2, 2023
What They’re Saying
“I’m really happy to get the win. A good word to use for this game is sloppy. Offensively, we just couldn’t get any rhythm going. That’s a credit to (Houston Christian’s) defense. But, the good news is, we would not have won that game in the past. We won with our defense. They shot 35 percent from the floor and 18 percent from three. Any chance you do that, you’re going to give yourself a chance to win. So I’m really proud of that. That’s back-to-back pretty good defensive performances by us.” – Head coach Scott Pera
Key takeaway | The defense is in there somewhere
Despite promises that this would be the season when Rice basketball found its footing on the defensive end of the court, nothing consistent or impactful truly materialized through the first seven games of the season. There were flashes here and there, but nothing nearly as impressive as the performance the Owls put on display Saturday afternoon — and they needed every little bit of it to get past HCU.
As Pera mentioned postgame, the defense was superb. Rice also forced 14 turnovers and only allowed their opponents to get to the free throw line 15 times.
Imperfect rebounding did lead to more defensive opportunities than should have been absolutely necessary, but at the end of the day, holding any team under 60 points is a solid start for this program right now. Over the past two seasons, Rice is 4-0 when holding their opponent below 60 total points.
Rice basketball probably isn’t ever going to turn into a defensive juggernaut, but they have the makings of a team that can play enough defense to get by, provided the offense holds up its end of the bargain. It has to be encouraging then that the offense was rather uninspiring by its standards on Saturday and the Owls still found a way to walk away with a win
Up Next: at Houston – Dec. 6 (Wed.)
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