HOUSTON (CBS-Houston) – Didn’t take the Rice Owls long to get that first conference win knowing they had to have it quickly. They earned it on the road with a 68-52 win at SMU. Head Coach Ben Braun made changes to the lineup for this game but not by necessity.
The Owls are now 10-7 with a Saturday night date in New Orleans against the Greenwave of Tulane. They currently stand at 12-4, 9-1 at home, but 0-2 in Conference USA.
Fogelman Arena has not been kind to Tulane which is coming off a 71-66 overtime home loss to visiting Southern Miss. While the Owls are flying high after their win in Dallas on Wednesday night, Rice Head Coach Ben Braun knows Tulane is desperate for a win in conference.
“They’re playing really well at home and what a turn-around they’ve had from a year ago. They’ve had a great non-conference. They’ve lost two very close games in the league. So, obviously the record means nothing. That’s just like ours. You throw the records out.
“They’re going to be tough. They play well at home. They’ve got some guys that can really play and has done a good job with this team. That’s a good basketball team. They may be the most improved team in the league.”
Meanwhile the Owls look to keep the momentum going even with a voluntary change or two made in the starting lineup.
LINEUP CHANGE DECISION
The Owls normal starting five of Arsalan Kazemi, Tamir Jackson, Connor Frizzelle, Lucas Kuipers, and Dylan Ennis was slightly altered versus SMU. The starting five were Kazemi, Frizzelle, Kuipers, Ennis, and Ibrahim. Freshman 6’6” guard Ahmad Ibrahim started in place of junior guard Tamir Jackson because Jackson felt it was a good move for the team, says Braun.
“Tamir talked about that – he had been struggling and he thought it would be best if he came off – got his assist total up and do some things to help our team,” says Braun. “He said it was something he felt strongly about. I thought that was a pretty good gesture.”
Let’s look at the numbers which could lend better insight. Jackson led the Owls in scoring and turnovers against Texas with 19 and 3 respectively. Against TCU, he scored 13 and committed a team-leading 3 turnovers. Against Marshall, Jackson scored a total of 7 points on 3-of-15 shooting, was 1-of-7 from the 3-point line, and 0-for-2 from the free throw line and no turnovers.
Coaches know that every player will have a bad game or two which they tend to occasionally overlook and allow freedom for redemption and restoration. The allowances can also be considered support.
“There’s always two ways to approach it,” says Braun. “One is every player has my support and is going to get our support. But sometimes when you’re struggling, you got to step back; you got to dig yourself up. I think it happened – Arsalan (Kazemi) was struggling the other day – he dug himself back. Ahmad’s been struggling. He pulled himself up. Omar (Oraby) had been struggling – pulled himself up.
“So, every player goes through it. I’m less concerned about starting. I’m more concerned about what are you doing to get yourself back into the swing. The easiest way to come out sometimes is to focus less on yourself and more on the team.”
Whether or not this is a one-game scenario for Jackson sitting and Ibrahim starting, Braun could not say, but did say he’d like to see Jackson get his confidence back.
ONE OF BEST STARTS
Braun admits that the SMU game was one of the best starts of the season for the Owls as they scored first, never trailed, and won by 16.
“We played as we practiced leading up to the game. We had, I thought, two good preparation days and a very sharp shoot-around and so our focus coming off the Marshall game was good. We came into the game (and) I think our guys were well-prepared and we executed our game plan. They played with intensity, some spunk, and some spirit, and 16-2, that’s not a bad start.”
Junior 6’6” forward Lucas Kuipers nailed a 3-pointer at the 14:04 mark of the first half to give the Owls a 16-2 lead and it was off to the races. Matt Doherty’s Mustangs could only get to within 5 during the entire game and that was at the 18:48 mark of the second half.
Three Owls scored in double figures. Arsalan Kazemi led the way for the Owls with 21 points and 12 rebounds. He’s tied for the NCAA lead with 12 double-doubles. Kuipers scored 10. Ibrahim, getting his first career start, scored 14 with 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 turnovers in 35 minutes, the second most minute-total for the Owls.
“Ahmad, given the opportunity, has done some good things for us this year, “says Braun. He gave us, I thought, very good defensive presence on (Jeremiah) Samarrippas. He made it tough for him – their offense runs through him, and Ahmad did a good job defensively.”
The 5’10” Mustang sophomore guard scored 12 points in 37 minutes. Braun also acknowledged how well Ibrahim played away from the ball.
“It started on the defensive end. I thought he made it tough. And then obviously he, (Ibrahim), helped us on a converting a few shots and on the break. So, he did a good job – had a good floor game. Ahmad stepped up. I thought he played well. He was a big factor in the game for us.”
SPOTLIGHT ON TULANE
The Greenwave have four players that average double-figure scoring led by 6’5” junior guard Kendall Thomas at 13.5 ppg. Freshman 6’1” point guard Ricky Tarrant runs the offense for Head Caoch Ed Conroy and averages 12.1 ppg. He was runner-up Mr. Basketball in the State of Alabama. Junior 6’0” guard Jordan Callahan adds 11.3 ppg while 6’8” sophomore forward Josh Davis adds 10.8 ppg and leads Tulane in rebounds per game with 9.7.
Conroy’s bunch scores an average of 67.8 ppg which is 7th best in the conference. However, their scoring defense of 55.6 ppg is the best in C-USA. They also boast a conference best 12.2 ppg margin of victory. They shoot 67% from the line, 42.9% from the field, and 36.4% from the 3-point line.
Braun stated that the Owls played well defensively against SMU and will need to mirror that effort against Tulane.
Tipoff gets underway 7:00 Saturday night at Fogelman Arena in New Orleans.