HOUSTON (CBS-Houston) – The game changes and becomes more intense now for the Rice Owls as they will host their first conference game of the season Saturday night at Tudor Fieldhouse against Marshall. The Thundering Herd is 10-4, 1-0 in C-USA after a 76-60 win over the UTEP Miners last Wednesday.
Rice Head Coach Ben Braun’s bunch is 9-6 after coming off back-to-back road loses to Texas and TCU. The 78-74 loss to TCU has to frustrate the Owls a bit as the numbers indicate the game could have gone in their favor.
However, against Marshall, the Owls will have to take lessons from the non-conference season and apply those to conference play as Marshall is the third best team in the conference. They are also the top offensive rebounding team averaging 42.6 per game while the Owls are second best at 40.2 rpg.
TCU-RICE IN REVIEW
Against 9-5 TCU, the Owls were just as competitive as they shot 46.7% for the game. In fact, they shot a sizzling 52.9% in the second half on 18-of-34 shooting. More telling is that both teams finished 28-of-60 for the game. The question is can they do the same or better against Marshall?
Rice had 4 players in double figures with freshman guard Dylan Ennis leading all scoring a career high 18 points. Junior forward Arsalan Kazemi dropped in 17. Along with 14 rebounds, he now has a total of 12 double-doubles which is good for a nation-leading tie. Senior guard Connor Frizzelle added 14, while junior guard Tamir Jackson pulled up the rear with 13.
The Owls also shot better from 3-point land finishing 8-of-18 while TCU finished 7-of-20. In the first half, the Owls were 3-for-5. They also led the Horned Frogs in blocks, 3-to-1. Unfortunately, Rice led the way in turnovers but only by 1, 10-to-9, while TCU led the way in steals 7-to-5.
While this next stat doesn’t necessarily indicate how the Owls lost the game, it does say this is where the Owls will need to improve Saturday night against Marshall. They were 10-of-17 at the free throw line and TCU was 15-of-20. The Owls connected on 5-of-10 in the first half for 50%, while connecting on 5-of-7 in the second half.
Note that Rice is the 7th best free throw shooting team in the conference at 68.1% while Marshall is dead last at 61.6%. So, this is the area where the Owls will need to take notice.
Rice 6’7” junior forward Arsalan Kazemi is a beast on the boards and leads the nation in rebounding average at 12.4 per game. He tallied 14 against TCU. The battle of the boards is where the Owls will need to pay close attention because Marshall has a NCAA top 20 rebounder in 6’8” junior forward Dennis Tinnon. He also averages double figure scoring to the tune of 10.3 ppg.
We said earlier that Marshall is the top offensive rebounding team in the conference. But, most importantly, they are the third best team in the nation in rebounding margin at 11.2 per game. This gives us pause to take a look back just before the Rice-TCU contest following the Owls 73-58 loss to Texas on 12/31/2011. They were outrebounded 37-27 by the Longhorns.
Rice Head Coach Ben Braun knew then he had to fix the problem immediately and stated the following after practice before tipping off against TCU last Wednesday.
“Well, rebounding was one area where we let down. They did beat us on the boards. So, that area was a tough one and we turned it over a few times and that led to some fast breaks and (we) didn’t get through some screens. So, just some technical things that we need to do a better job of.”
GETTING BETTER BY THE NUMBERS
The numbers tell the story and the Owls were only out-rebounded by one to TCU, 36-35. So, obviously they got better immediately. Thus, rebounding will be key against Marshall. The Owls shoot better than Marshall from the field, 46.1% to 43.9% which shows up in the scoring average where Rice leads there also, 75.8 ppg to 73 ppg.
Turnovers – another area that Braun mentioned. The Owls turned it over 10 times to TCU’s 9. They got better. But, the question for Saturday night is which team can apply more pressure and which will generate the most turnovers.
Rice is the second-best steals leader in C-USA behind East Carolina with an average of 8.5 per game, while Marshall averages 7 per game, good for a 5th place tie with Central Florida. But, Rice has a season total of 213 turnovers to Marshall’s 200.
If the Owls are to put themselves in the driver’s seat against Marshall, they must protect their possessions and control the boards.
Tipoff gets underway 7:00 Saturday night at Tudor Fieldhouse.