By: Tim Andrzejewski (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Four players scored in double-figures, led by junior Connor Cashaw, who recorded his second double-double of his career with 18 pints and 11 rebounds. Senior Bishop Mency had 15 points and six rebounds and sophomores Robert Martin and Ako Adams set career-highs of 14 points and seven rebounds and 13 points and six assists, respectively.
"Right now, this is a tough [loss]," said Rice head coach Scott Pera. "We played well enough to win. We were winning for 39 minutes and 54 seconds. It's tough. We'll look at the film. My job is to point out the mistakes (and) also point out the good things they did, because they did a lot of good things. I am really proud of them, in many aspects. It's a shame that we didn't get the win."
Rice led 61-48 with 8:12 to play. After the Colonels got dunks from Nick Mayo and DeAndre Dishman, the teams traded baskets. Cashaw then hit a jumper to give Rice a 65-54 lead with 6:01 to play.
However, EKU slowly began to chip away at the deficit. Seven straight puts cut Rice's lead to four. After a technical foul was called on Dishman, Adams hit one-of-two free throws. But, two free throws followed by a layup made it a one-point game as Rice turned the ball over in three of its next four possessions. Martin pushed the lead to three and Dishman made one-of-two free throws. Austin Meyer then made it a four-point game with a pair of free throws. However, four straight free throws by Mayo tied the game at 70 with 1:17 to play.
Rice was able to hold the ball for the next 53 seconds before Martin was fouled, hitting both shots to grab a two-point lead. Eastern Kentucky then worked the ball around before Boyd pump-faked a three to get Adams in the air, who fouled Boyd on the attempt with 5.9 remaining.
After Boyd made all three free throws to give EKU the lead, Adams drove the length of the court for a layup attempt. Tim Harrison got the rebound, but his putback attempt went off the rim as the buzzer sounded.
"All the credit goes to Eastern Kentucky," said Pera. "They made winning plays down the stretch. (Boyd) made a really smart play. I thought we played tremendous defense (and) they weren't going to get a great shot. He did a really smart thing of shot-faking and drawing the foul. Unfortunately, the game shouldn't have come down to that. I thought we played well-enough to win. We learned a hard lesson."
Rice scored the first six points of the game as Eastern Kentucky missed its first five shots. After Nick Mayo got EKU on the board with a jumper, Austin Meyer and Robert Martin made back-to-back layup to give Rice a 10-2 lead and force an Eastern Kentucky timeout just 4:03 into the game.
After the teams traded baskets, a Mayo layup was all the scoring over the next 3:33 as Rice missed its next seven shots. Adams got Rice back on the board with a three, but the Colonels scored 10 of the next 11 points to pull within three midway through the half.
After they traded baskets, Rice went on a 16-6 run to take a 36-25 lead with 2:32 left in the half. However, EKU scored the final six points as the Owls went into the break leading 73-72.
Added Pera, "I told the guys in the locker room, this is really hard. "Winning at this level is really, really hard. There are a lot of great coaches, a lot of great teams, and a lot of guys who are just hungry to succeed. For some of our young guys, they learned that lesson tonight. All I can hope is that when they go to practice tomorrow, they learn something from it."
Rice shot 36.2% from the field and just 28.6% from three. Eastern Kentucky connected on 38.5% from the floor and just 22.2% from three. The Owls were also 22-of-32 from the charity stripe while EKU was 17-of-19. The Colonels also won the rebounding battle, 43-to-40.
Rice closes out its season-opening homestand next Tuesday, Nov. 14, when it hosts Georgia State as part of the MGM Grand Main Event. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. CT and will be live-streamed at FloSports.com.