March 10, 2011
EL PASO - Rice University sophomore forward Arsalan Kazemi scored 24 points, and in snaring his 13th rebound of the game, helped the Owls secure a 58-57 win over SMU during the first round of the 2011 Buick Conference USA Basketball Championship Wednesday night.
Rice (14-17) advances to play No. 2 seed Tulsa (18-12) Thursday night at approximately 9 p.m. Central during the quarterfinal round of the post-season championship. The victor will play the winner of the Marshall/UTEP game in the tournament's semifinals on Friday.
Rice scored the first 11 points of the second half, building a 38-27 lead. The early run began with a three-point play by Tamir Jackson who also knocked down a three-pointer during the rally.
SMU would gradually chop into the Owls' advantage.
Mustang freshman guard Jeremiah Samarrippas' two free throws following a Rice turnover cut the Owls' lead to 55-53 with 3:32 to play.
Kazemi scored the first of two free throw attempts to give the Owls a three-point advantage but Papa Dia answered for the Mustangs to make it a one-point game again.
Despite a pair of missed shots, Rice maintained an offensive possession in the final minute and with a new shot clock ticking down, Bryan Beasley made a swift pass to Kazemi for an inside basket, putting the Owls back up by three, 58-55 with 53 seconds to play.
SMU senior Collin Mangrum was able to drive for a basket at the other end then stole a Rice pass. The Owls were working to break a Mustang full-court press when Mangrum intercepted a Connor Frizzelle pass intended for an open Lucas Kuipers in the corner.
Trailing by one, SMU called timeout with 18 seconds to play. The Mustangs got the ball into the hands of Robert Nyakundi, who scored a career-high 29 points at Rice early in the season, but the Mustang junior forward's late jumper missed and Kazemi came away with the game-securing rebound.
"We didn't want to give anyone an open look," Rice head coach Ben Braun said of the final defensive stand. "We really closed down lanes and challenged. Whenever they came off a screen, we jumped on the ball. We didn't gamble.
"We just played solid on the ball and I thought we really closed down the lanes. I thought that was one of the best, if not the best defensive possession of the game. We were very determined not to foul, not to get penetrated on, nor give up an open shot."
After scoring a total of 55 points in two regular-season wins over Rice, Nyakundi finished with just five points.
SMU senior forward Papa Dia, a first-team all-conference selection who was also named the Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year, had 22 points and 15 rebounds.
"Papa Dia is going to go for double figures," Braun said. "He's a tough player as well. We had to take away something and didn't want to get burned with all those threes. They did knock down some threes, but we made them work a little bit harder."
The Mustangs made a total of 17 three-pointers in its two, regular-season wins over Rice. SMU was 6-for-18 from behind the three-point arc Wednesday night.
Rice shot just 35 percent from the field but had 15 offensive boards in outrebounding the Mustangs 36-32. The key statistic however was the 25 points Rice scored off 15 SMU turnovers.
Frizzelle finished with 12 points while Jackson scored 11 points and had seven assists.
No more than five points separated the two teams in the opening half.
Kazemi gave the Owls a late lead when Jackson found the forward rolling to the basket for a slam dunk. The play put Rice up 24-23 with 2:12 to play in the half. Dia would answer for the Mustangs at the other end with a putback bucket.
After missed shots by both teams, Kuipers would knock down a three-pointer that gave the Owls a 27-25 lead. Playing for a last shot, the Mustangs got a floater from Samarrippas that beat the horn and tied the score at halftime, 27-27.