Rice basketball stunned Memphis, leading the home favorites for the majority of the game to notch one of the biggest wins of Scott Pera’s tenure.
If Rice basketball was meant to be intimidated as heavy underdogs at the FedEx Forum against Memphis, they didn’t show it. The visiting Owls, losers of six of seven AAC contests, held Memphis to 22 points in the first half, outshooting the Tigers on their home court as they built a double-digit lead in the opening frame.
It was sharp shooting from Keanu Dawes and Alem Huseinovic that helped the Owls build their early lead. Anthony Selden delivered the closing run of the half, pushing the Rice lead to 11, their largest of the night so far. From that point, the play-by-play reverted to a familiar storyline. Rice had a big lead, could they hold on?
Rice basketball has squandered its fair share of double-digit leads this season. On Wednesday night, whether it was favor finally finding the feathered fighters or a true moment of resolve, one might never know, but Rice found a way to hold the line.
Memphis took the lead back with four minutes remaining, erasing the longstanding Rice advantage. Rather than fluster, Rice fired back. Travis Evee connected on back-to-back threes. The first tied the game. The second put Rice in front with less than a minute to play. Dawes would make four crucial free throws after that. Evee added one more from the stripe. Then it was over.
A last-second heave from Memphis clanked off the rim and hit the court. Before it collided with the hardwood, the Rice bench had already begun celebrating one of, if not the biggest win of Scott Pera’s tenure.
“It took 40 minutes of a team effort from top to bottom. Guys that played a lot of the game, guys that didn’t play it all. Everyone was engaged,” Evee said. “We played for each other and that’s why we won.”
Final Box | Rice 74 – Memphis 71
FINAL | @RiceMBB 74 – Memphis 71
— The Roost (@AtTheRoost) February 1, 2024
Key takeaway | Best Ball
Evee said it best in his closing comments after the landmark win: “When we’re playing our best ball, we can compete with anyone.” That’s been the thesis this team has been clinging to for months now. Since the season began, this team believed they had a team that was good enough to challenge the best the American Conference had to offer. On Wednesday night, they were finally rewarded.
“Our kids have overcome a lot. They’ve dealt with a lot. Tonight was just a heck of a win from a group of kids that have just been staying with it,” head coach Scott Pera said afterward. “The preparation has been good. The practice has been good. The approach and the attitude has been good. And it’s all that you can ask as a coach. You want to see them get some wins because you know that we can win.”
Memphis was the No. 10 team in the country a few weeks ago. Even when accounting for their recent losing skid — now exacerbated by the Owls — this is a very good basketball team. And Rice beat them, arguably making the game a lot closer than it should have been with the missed free throws down the stretch.
The question now will be whether or not this team can replicate that kind of 40-minute effort. If they can, they’ll have a shot to climb out of the sizable hole they dug for themselves over the last several weeks. Everyone in that locker room believes this game can be that turning point. Hopefully, they’re right.
Up Next: at UTSA (Saturday, Feb. 3)
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