It wasn’t easy, but Rice basketball is heading home from Temple with their first-ever AAC win, taking down the conference’s other Owls 69-66.
The visiting Owls made themselves feel right at home against Temple on Saturday afternoon. Rice basketball knocked down a trio of three-point shots in the opening minutes, jumping out ahead 11-5 on the road. From there, the combination of Max Fiedler and Mekhi Mason took over, stretching a close game to yet another double-digit advantage for Rice.
A 13-point halftime lead did not last long. Temple opened the second half on a 7-0 run and, as if that wasn’t daunting enough, Travis Evee picked up his fourth foul shortly after that run. Not only was Rice going to have to find a way to hold onto the lead, they were going to have to do so without their top scorer on the floor for much of the second half.
Evee went to the bench. Rice lost the lead. Temple slowly added to their advantage, going up by six points before Evee was reinserted into the game. Playing with no foul margin, Evee scored eight straight points, spurring a Rice rally that was desperately needed.
With the game back in reach, a stressful series of closing possessions soon followed. Missed free throws from both sides and errant passes culminated in two clutch free throws from Mason, who finished with a team-high 20 points, powering Rice to a lead in the final seconds. A three-ball from Temple at the buzzer would clank off the rim, giving Rice basketball its first-ever AAC win.
The win was Pera’s 350th career win.
Welcome to the club Coach!
— Rice Men’s Basketball (@RiceMBB) January 20, 2024
“This has been a tough stretch, one of the toughest of my career of 33 years,” head coach Scott Pera said after the game. “They’ve just hung with it. They’ve practiced good. We’ve been playing better. We just gotta win. We found a way today. I’m just so proud of them.”
Final Box | Rice 69 – Temple 66
— The Roost (@AtTheRoost) January 20, 2024
Key takeaway | A win is a win is a win
Despite a slow start in conference play, getting a lead hasn’t been too difficult for Rice basketball over the last several weeks. This has been a good first half team, building sizable advantages early in games but not having the ability to sustain that level of play over 40 minutes. Whether it’s endurance, focus or misfortune of one kind or another, leads have too frequently disappeared as quickly as they have come.
So when Rice took a 16-point lead in the waning minutes of the first half, confidences were mixed. After all, the Owls had done this before but they hadn’t finished yet. On Saturday on the road, Rice finally got it done.
The victory in itself will not awe anyone on the outside. Temple entered the game 8-10 (1-4 AAC). It won’t go down in any record books or be spoken about as a resume builder for a program looking to turn the corner and get going back in the right direction. However, it should serve as proof of concept for what this team is capable of when they can play well and execute offensively.
Getting out of an 0-4 AAC start can’t happen overnight. It’s one game at a time. This was one baby step, sorely needed after an arduous beginning.
Up Next: vs Florida Atlantic (Wednesday, Jan. 24)
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