The Rice Owls have a tough task ahead when they take on Old Dominion in Norfolk, Va. on Thursday night. The Monarchs enter the contest with a 13-2 record and are fresh off the program's first-ever top-25 ranking one week ago. ODU will also be out to avenge a road loss in its last outing on Saturday at Conference USA newcomer Western Kentucky.
Men's Basketball Falls Just Short at Old Dominion
A valiant effort by Rice University men's basketball came up just short of a victory on Thursday night at Old Dominion, as the Monarchs escaped with a 55-51 win at the Ted Constant Convocation Center.
On top of that, the Monarchs average more than 6,700 fans at their home games in the Ted Constant Convocation Center where the team has already racked up an 8-0 record this season, including solid wins over Richmond, No. 14 VCU and William & Mary. Not to mention, Thursday marks the team's first home game with students back from the winter break and there's no doubt the Monarch faithful will show up in full force for the team's C-USA home opener.
Even with all of those factors creating a hostile environment for the visitors, Rice still expects to be greeted by cheers on Thursday when the team takes the court. That welcome is a tribute to 18 years' worth of relationships built up by head coach Mike Rhoades and his staff in the Commonwealth.
"It will be great," Rhoades said. "There are so many people requesting tickets. We're definitely helping Old Dominion out with ticket sales. They fill their arena anyway, but we will have a lot of Randolph-Macon and VCU fans there and we have a lot of friends and family coming down from Pennsylvania, too."
Before making the move to Rice, Rhoades spent the first 18 years of his coaching career less than 100 miles up the road from Norfolk in the state capital, Richmond. He spent the last five years on staff at VCU where he helped the Rams become a national power, highlighted by a trip to the 2011 Final Four.
Prior to making the move to Shaka Smart's staff at VCU, Rhoades coached for 13 years just up the road at Randolph-Macon in Ashland, Va., including the final 10 seasons as head coach. In those 10 years, the Mahanoy City, Pa. native won 197 games and led the Yellow Jackets to four NCAA Tournaments, including two Sweet 16 appearances.
"Virginia is a great place and great state to be a basketball coach. I recruited a lot around the area around Old Dominion, so I know a lot of the coaches in the area," Rhoades added. "Some of them have reached out to me to say they're coming to the game and some are even bringing their teams. We're going to keep going back to recruit the Virginia area because of my time there and those relationships and having gotten to know a lot of the players."
That support is not limited to the Owls' head coach, as several other members of Rhoades' staff have also coached in Virginia. Assistant coach J.D. Byers knows the region well from his three years on staff at Randolph-Macon, including two with Rhoades. Byers then coached at Radford for three seasons before joining the staff at Rice this past spring.
Associate head coach Carlin Hartman spent five seasons in Virginia, coaching one year at James Madison and four at Richmond, while director of operations Graham Bousley and strength and conditioning coach Nick Michael came to South Main from VCU, where they served as graduate assistants with the Rams.
The entire program will feel the support on Thursday as the Owls seek a win in their league road opener. But the support won't stop there, Rhoades noted.
"Some family and friends are even driving down to Charlotte to see us play there on Saturday, so it's going to be really neat. It makes you feel good that people have your back with the relationships we've kept over so many years."