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Owls Still Looking For First C-USA Win

By NATE GRIFFIN, SportsRadio 610
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(credit: Anthony Vasser)

(credit: Anthony Vasser)

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HOUSTON (CBS-Houston) – The SMU Mustangs are next for the Rice Owls who are looking for their first conference win after losing to Marshall 63-61 on last Saturday. The Owls are now 9-7 and 8th in C-USA at 0-1. SMU, on the other hand, is 9-6, 1-0 in conference, and 5-1 at Moody Coliseum.

The Owls have lost three-straight. But, Braun’s bunch played a solid game against 3rd place Marshall who is now 2-0 in conference and 11-4 overall. SMU will be looking to win their conference home opener against Rice who is 2-2 on the road Wednesday night.

RICE – MARSHALL REVIEW

The Owls shot 45.1% from the floor for the game which was slightly better than Marshalls’ 41.3%. In fact, the Owls were 12-of-25 for 48% in the second half. So, they made the shots count. More telling, the Owls were only down by 2, 29-27 at the half having been out-rebounded 22-15. For the game, Marshall out-rebounded Rice 45-27 which was disappointing to Owls’ Head Coach, Ben Braun.

“We know we’re a better rebounding team than that and it’s odd. But, Omar (Oraby) comes in and gets 10 rebounds and here’s Arsalan (Kazemi) who’s been leading the country in rebounds and I guess he (Omar), took away a few from Arselan because Arsalan only gets 4 and that’s unlike Arsalan.”

The Thundering Herd had a bit of a size advantage. In addition, they did a good job of getting position underneath the baskets and blocking out especially on the offensive end where they out-rebounded the Owls 16-to-5. Braun points out the missed opportunities.

“Whether it’s Arsalan or our team, we’re not going to care about who gets how many rebounds. We just, as a team, have to find a way to go out and get more then 27 or at least to be outrebounded from that standpoint. There were just a few more rebounds we could have had and that was the difference in the game because they got second-chance reloads, they got put-backs. They got to the foul line on some second-chance points.”

HUGE MISSED OPPORTUNITIES

While the Owls missed a few additional rebound opportunities according to Braun, they also missed at the free throw line. In fact, the Owls lost the contest after two missed free throws by Arsalan Kazemi. The Owls were 11-of-20 for the game.

“The two biggest differences in the game were the rebounding margin and our inability to convert free throws,” says Braun. We get to the line 20 times. We’ve got to make more than 11. So that hurt us.”

Unfortunately, it did in this scenario. Arsalan Kazemi was fouled with 11 seconds remaining in regulation, game tied at 61. As a result, he was awarded 2 free throws and missed both. Marshall seized the moment.

Thundering Herd senior guard Shaquille Johnson would rebound that second missed free throw and race the length of the floor to a layup giving his team a 63-61 lead with 2 seconds remaining. The Owls attempted a 3-pointer by junior guard Tamir Jacskon that did not connect. There’s no question that Braun wanted his Owls to foul Johnson before he could make good on the layup.

“Obviously at the end we kind of let down because we had two fouls to give and we really should have been more aggressive on the ball. We were instructing our players to be aggressive and I think we were a little tentative.”

“Our players probably were a little tentative about maybe reaching, getting beaten. But, we needed to be a little more aggressive at the end of that game.”

WHAT GOT LOST

Arsalan Kazemi scored his 1000th-plus career point after needing only 8 going into the game and scoring 15. Sophomore 7’2” center, Omar Oraby scored his first career double-double leading the Owls with 16 points, 10 rebounds, and 6 blocked shots. However, it was difficult for Oraby to enjoy the moment with his family in attendance.

“The team still lost. It would have been better if the team had won because we’re not going to celebrate individual accomplishments. We still need to win. So, it doesn’t really matter what I got, or what whoever got, we just need to win the game.”

“He gets 16 points, 10 rebounds, that’s going to help us win I can promise you,” added Braun. “But, I agree with Omar; it’s tough. We’d like to celebrate Arsalan’s thousandth. We’d like to celebrate Omar’s game. But, I think it shows you where our team is at. We want to accomplish team goals. But, we’re going to get there.”

Oraby and Kazemi led the way in scoring for the Owls while Jackson and senior guard Connor Frizzelle both finished with 7 points.

SMU IS NEXT

The Mustangs secured a 57-55 road victory at Tulsa on Saturday to win their first C-USA game of the season. Wednesday night’s gave versus Rice will represent the Conference USA home opener for SMU.

Senior 6’8” forward Robert Nyakundi and 6’3” junior guard London Giles lead the Mustangs in scoring with 15.6 and 11.7 points per game respectively. Nyakundi is also their leading rebounder and averages 5.8 per game.

The Mustangs average 63.3 ppg and are ranked 11th in the conference while the Owls average 74.9 ppg and are third-best behind Houston and Memphis. Rice is the second-best rebounding team in C-USA and averages 39.4 per game while SMU averages 31 boards per contest and ranks 11th.

The Owls are now the 8th best free-throw shooting team in the conference at 67.5% while SMU is 4th at 69.3%. However, the Mustangs are very good in transition and can rack up steals. Their +2.5 turnover margin ranks 3rd in the conference as they average fewer than 13 turnovers per game. Rice averages 14.2 turnovers per game.

Rice 6’7” junior forward Arsalan Kazemi is now number 4 in the nation in rebounding average at 11.9 per game.

Tipoff gets underway 7:00 Wednesday night at Moody Coliseum.

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