Rice basketball made itself at home in Bartow Arena, blasting the hosting UAB Blazers in an onslaught that seemed out of reach by halftime.
UAB had won nine games in a row at home before Rice basketball arrived in Birmingham on Wednesday night. That streak has officially been reset, falling emphatically behind a comprehensive beatdown by a team letting out what felt like weeks of frustration on an opponent that wasn’t ready for the tidal wave that was heading their way.
Nothing seemed amiss early. UAB jumped out to a 10-3 lead behind a strong start from Efrem Johnson. Once that initial surge subsided, though, it was all Owls.
Rice would go on a 27-3 run over the span of the next eight minutes, evaporating the Blazers lead behind one of the most complete performances this team has assembled all season long. They held UAB to 24 percent shooting from the floor in the first half, pairing a stout defensive showing with big days from Mekhi Mason and Andrew Akuchie with double-digit performances from Sam Alajiki and Keanu Dawes off the bench.
“Tonight we played the best we could play in a really tough environment against a really good team, our guys were just outstanding,” head coach Scott Pera said after the big win, clearly elated.
Ahead by 25 at the break, UAB never got closer than a 16-point deficit in the second half, erased promptly by a 10-3 Rice run. Everyone got in on the scoring with Pera emptying the benches as the team neared the 100-point mark. Ifeanyi Ufochukwu would provide the final basket off the bench. On this night, 94 points would have to do.
“I just wanted us to play our best every night. That’s all I ever ask of these guys. Through all the struggles they’ve been so much fun to be around and coach,” Pera beamed. “They deserve this tonight. We’re going to enjoy it.”
Final Box | Rice 94 – UAB 71
— The Roost (@AtTheRoost) February 22, 2024
Key takeaway | Home away from home?
In one of the most bizarre statistical phenomenons of the season, Rice basketball continues to play its best away from home. Rice has wins over Memphis, UAB, Temple and UTSA, all on the road. As the calendar nears March, they have yet to win an AAC home game.
Perhaps Rice fans need to show up wearing purple instead of blue when the Owls return home to face ECU. Maybe the team can check into a nice hotel and reenact the bus ride to the arena next time out. All jokes aside, whatever is working for Rice away from home needs to be replicated in Houston.
With only a few games left, Rice can still clinch a first round bye in the AAC Tournament. All they need to do is finish 10th in the league standings. They were on that seed line coming into Wednesday, but the win over UAB boosts the Owls’ chances. Rice plays two of their final five regular season games away from home.
Up Next: vs ECU (Saturday, Feb. 24)
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