Dec. 5, 2009
North Texas vs. Rice Game Book
By MOISEKAPENDA BOWER
Given the subtle and ill-timed missteps that marred what was otherwise a sound defensive performance, Rice could at least hang its hat on its shackling of North Texas' mighty but diminutive point guard Josh White.
That was until crunch time came about, at which point White proved to be more than the scrambling and suddenly reeling Owls could handle.
White scored 11 of his 14 points in the final 3 minutes and 23 seconds as the Owls struggled in vain to fend off their third consecutive defeat, a 64-62 setback on Saturday at Tudor Fieldhouse that sent the Owls into their 10-day break for final exams on an unexpected downturn.
White, North Texas' leading scorer at 17.7 points per game, was held scoreless for more than 30 minutes before sinking a pair of free throws that snapped a 52-all tie with 3:23 remaining in the game. He added his second of two baskets, a pull-up 3-pointer with 2:50 left, six more free throws and a pass in traffic that resulted in Eric Tramiel sinking a free throw with 25.2 seconds to play. White had a hand in the final 12 points scored by the Mean Green (5-2), which shot just 35.7 percent and was limited by the Owls (4-4) to 16 points below its season scoring average.
"He slashed his way and bumped his way into the lane to get some fouls," Rice coach Ben Braun said of the 5-10, 175-pound junior from Baton Rouge, La. "And he got them."
Added Owls freshman point guard Tamir Jackson: "He was 9-for-9 from the free-throw line. If I would have kept him off the free-throw line we would have won the game."
For the second consecutive home game the Owls made far fewer trips to the line, with the disparity at the charity stripe (minus-14 attempts) negating advantages in the paint (plus-22), on the glass (plus-7) and in shot attempts (plus-14). The Owls were felled by two stretches in particular: the flurry by White to close the game, and their struggles containing North Texas' dribble penetration to conclude the first half.
Following back-to-back baskets by Connor Frizzelle (10 points), the Owls led 22-15 at the 6:02 mark of the first half. But Dominique Johnson scored five quick points to cut the margin to two points and ignite a 17-5 run to close the half. Tramiel and Collin Mangrum added 3s off open looks while Johnson dropped in another trey and a pair of free throws.
"We talked about trapping the ball screens, and at first we weren't really trapping it because we were only supposed to trap Josh White," Jackson said. "We thought we were supposed to trap everybody, and that was leaving guys wide open. We were not supposed to let guys go baseline and we were letting them go baseline a lot, and that was allowing for open 3s everywhere."
Said Frizzelle: "That little guard is good coming around screens. When he would get into the lane a couple of times we over-helped if anything, and he was able to kick it out and their shooters were set and ready to shoot and knock those down."
North Texas shot 6 of 13 from behind the arc in the first half en route to building a 32-27 lead. The Owls did a superior job of guarding the perimeter after intermission, but the Mean Green built enough of a lead to lock the Owls into a fight where momentum swung back and forth.
What the Owls failed to do was string together several efficient offensive possessions. Jackson (13 points, eight rebounds, five assists) was exceptional during his 36 minutes on the court, but he couldn't direct the Owls to a quality shot with North Texas leading 61-59 and a minute left on the clock. Frizzelle and Lucas Kuipers (11 points, four rebounds) drained late 3s, but the Owls shot just 4 of 15 on 3s for the contest. Freshman forward Arsalan Kazemi (12 points, 11 rebounds) notched his second double-double, but the starting frontcourt of Suleiman Braimoh and Trey Stanton combined for five points (on 2-for-7 shooting) and seven boards while tallying five of the Owls' 11 turnovers.
"Putting guys at the foul line is something we have to work on," Braun said. "We came away empty inside a couple times and left a lot of baskets hanging. We needed to be at the foul line more than we were."
The Owls will resume their season on Dec. 16 against Santa Clara at Tudor Fieldhouse, the start of another three-games-in-one-week span.