March 1, 2014
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Missing two of the team’s top four scorers due to injury and illness, Rice University men’s basketball had a tough time gaining traction at league leader Middle Tennessee in a 65-41 setback at the Murphy Center on Saturday evening.
The Owls (7-21, 2-13 C-USA) started the game shooting well and sank better than 40 percent of their shots in the opening 20 minutes. The Blue Raiders (22-8, 12-3) adjusted and cooled off the Rice shooters after the break as the Owls finished the game with just a 31.8 percent field goal percentage.
Max Guercy led the team in scoring with nine points, all of which came in the opening half. The sophomore added three rebounds in 33 minutes.
Making his second-straight start, Ross Wilson hauled in a team-leading seven rebounds to accompany eight points on 3-of-4 shooting. He chipped in one steal in 28 minutes of action.
Redshirt freshman Nizar Kapic earned a place in the starting lineup for the first time this season and grabbed four rebounds while scoring two points in 29 minutes.
Sean Obi battled constant double teams as well as foul trouble to tally three points, four rebounds, an assist, a block and a steal in 21 minutes. In reserve, Andrew Drone filled up the post with six points on 2-of-4 shooting with a pair of rebounds in 16 minutes.
Charged up by a pre-game Senior Day ceremony, Middle Tennessee charged out of the gates with the game’s first nine points. From there, the Owls regrouped with an 11-6 run to pull back within four points. The Owls out-shot the home team in the first half with a 41.2 field goal percentage (to MT’s 38.5), but 11 turnovers and a 16-7 free throw deficit gave MT more chances on offense en route to a 33-19 halftime lead.
After the intermission, the teams’ shooting fortunes changed, allowing MT to open up its margin to as many as 25 points late in regulation. The Blue Raiders knocked down 12-of-13 free throws after the break, and 21-of-29 for the game. Rice shot 12-of-19 from the foul line.
Rice outscored MT in the paint, 16-14, but suffered a 39-29 deficit on the glass. After committing 11 turnovers in the first half, Rice turned it over just twice in the final 20 minutes.
Rice wraps up the regular season at home on Thursday against Louisiana Tech. The Owls will honor seniors Bahrom Firozgary and Austin Ramljak prior to the 7 p.m. tipoff. Rice then heads to El Paso for the Conference USA Championship the following week.
NOTES: All nine players in uniform saw action in the game … the Owls were short-handed as senior Ramljak (hand) and sophomore Keith Washington (illness) did not make the trip … Firozgary did not dress out due to a leg injury … Rice’s 41 points tied a season scoring low.
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