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They’ve had a bit of a break since their huge 65-58 road win over Texas A&M last Thursday. Obviously, the holidays have been good for Head Coach Ben Braun and his Rice Owls as they reflect back on the victory, which one game obviously will not make their season. But it was gratifying to go into a break with such a lift, says Braun.
“I wanted our guys to enjoy the game because obviously we were going to be off for a couple of days. But, I wanted them to remember what it was that earned us the victory because those are the intangibles, the things that you have to come up with. Sometimes teams hit shots (and) sometimes other teams have bad games.”
But from an observer’s point of view, the Owls forced the Aggies into a bad game with their style of play. The Owls were 17-of-23 from the free throw line. The Aggies were 9-of-12 from the free throw line – at home. The Owls were 6-of-19 from the 3-point line. The Aggies were 3-of-13. Most importantly, the rebounding edge went to the Owls, 37-28. Braun’s Owls also out-paced the Aggies up and down the floor outscoring them 16-4 on fast break points.
“You know I thought for our team, our team stepped up in a lot of categories, says Braun. We outrebounded Texas A&M and we played with a real toughness on defense. We got loose balls, long rebounds, and then we really found open people which was important.”
“I think that was probably one of our better games in terms of finding open guys. So all the things we’ve done from time to time this year seemed to come together in one game. And it’s important that we continue that because our schedule, as you know, is going to have some more challenges ahead and we’re going to have to have that type of effort to play these games.”
CONTINUE TO ELEVATE PLAY
Where do the Owls go from here? They are now 8-4 on the season with Willis Wilson’s Islanders on the schedule for Wednesday night. The Owls own the fifth best record in Conference USA behind number one Tulane at 11-2, Southern Miss at 10-2, Marshall at 9-2 and UCF at 8-3. So obviously, getting better is what’s on the agenda for Head Coach Ben Braun and his Owls.
The Owls average 77.2 ppg, third best in C-USA, while allowing opponents an average of 65.2 ppg, tenth best in the conference. They have a +12 scoring margin which is 2nd best while they average 68% from the free throw line, 7th best. They shoot 46.9% from the field which is third best in C-USA.
However, they are the very best in their league in FG defense at 38.5%. But it’s the offensive rebounding stat that really sticks out. The Owls are number two in the conference with an average of 41.2 rpg on the offensive glass and it was obvious versus Texas A&M. Braun admits that type of effort night in, night out is contagious.
“That’s something you can build on because I thought that from the beginning of the game right towards the very end, our guys played with that type of intensity, something we didn’t let up. It’s hard in a 40-minute game not to let up somewhere. But everybody’s going to have a let up somewhere. But the good teams find ways not to have those letdowns if any at all.”
Avoiding letdowns is certainly one way to get better. However, Braun wants his team to play against every team the way they played against Texas A&M. To do that, there’s one specific area in which he wants his team to get better.
“The area of consistency! We’re challenging shots better than we did and I think our last game was maybe our best challenge game in terms of challenging the percentage of shots; keeping guys out of the paint and not letting them get to the foul line.”
“Those are challenges for us making sure we can do both. And then there’s that toughness challenge; always getting the loose balls, every rebound, every 50-50 ball you can. Because the more of those we get, the better our chances are.”
FAMILIAR FACE COMES TO TUDOR
Texas A&M Corpus Christi and former Rice Head Basketball Coach Willis Wilson will take the Tudor Fieldhouse floor on Wednesday night for the first time as the head coach of an opposing team. Wilson is a former Rice star point guard and team captain. He coached the Rice Owls for 16 seasons.
After finishing 3-27 in 2007-2008, most of their games played on the road, Rice Athletics Director Chris Del Conte announced in March, 2008 that Wilson would not be retained the following season.
Ben Braun has had the Holidays to rest and reflect on his last victory. In addition, during his preparation for the former Rice Head Coach and the Islanders, thoughts have crossed his mind in regards to Wilson’s situation. But, Braun can also point to his own experiences as a Head Coach and fully understands.
“If you’re in coaching long enough, you’re obviously going to experience that. Maybe as a coach, you’re going to know somebody that does. Just coming off the game at A&M; when you’re coaching against a former assistant (Billy Kennedy-Cal), that was on the sideline with you, (it was) that same feeling.”
“Obviously, with Billy Kennedy and what he’s gone through physically and some of the challenges he has ahead, you think about those things. (I) visited with Billy before the game and I’m sure Willis and I will get together before this game on Wednesday.”
“We’ve shared some great conversations. He’s been very helpful to me and my transition to Rice, somebody that’s played here and coached here. I can’t say enough for what he’s offered me. I’ve known Coach (Wilson) over the years. I thought he was very gracious to reach out to me and I think our relationship’s been good.”
“But, it’s a tough situation when your former school, you’re not coaching there now, you’re coaching down the road. So, it’s a different atmosphere, different feeling. But, it shouldn’t change the personal relationships you have and I’m hoping that the longer you go into coaching you’re going to have relationships and those things are always going to stand the test.”
“Those things are important. You don’t change who you are. You always reach out to fellow coaches and that’s important to do. And hopefully that’s something I’ll do and he’ll do. The game is the game. We’ll worry about that. But, we’re obviously going to be able to maintain a relationship going in and coming out.”
Wilson’s Islanders are 1-10 this season. However, their non-conference schedule included opponents such as Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Houston, West Virginia, Missouri State, and now Rice. Their lone win is a 58-55 OT victory against Utah State.
The Islanders average 56 ppg, 34.5 rebounds per game, 5.6 steals, and 4.6 blocks per game. They shoot 37% from the field, 58.1% from the free throw line, and 31.1% from the 3-point line.
Their leading scores are 6’2” junior guard Terence Jones at 12.9 ppg and 6’6” senior guard Chris Hawkins-Mast at 11.7 ppg.
The game gets underway at 7:00 Wednesday night, Tudor Fieldhouse.