HOUSTON (CBS-Houston) The Owls can boast about two major milestones until Saturday night when they meet conference foe Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. The Owls won their 16th game of the season in an 83-74 come-from-behind victory over 19-8 Central Florida on Wednesday night.
Most impressive, the 16 wins are the most by an Owls team since the 2006-07 season when the Owls finished 16-16. However, the way Wednesday night’s game started, getting to 16 might not have been in the cards for most teams, says Rice Head Basketball Coach, Ben Braun.
“To be down against a good team and have that team play the way they did, and our team not fold in or fold it up, is huge. A lot of teams might have gone away when they got down by 15 and team morale wise, might have stayed down when a team is shooting 70% on you. That can be awfully discouraging.”
But, the Owls remained calm trailing 49-37 at the half. They stayed patient and remembered that it takes two halves to win a college basketball game.
“Our team regrouped at halftime. We made some adjustments and our players followed the adjustments to a ‘T’. They believed in the adjustments. They executed the adjustments. And I told them that they would have a chance to climb back in this ballgame if they hung together – and they did.”
OWLS FOUND THEIR RHYTHM
Rice came out sizzling in the second half hitting its first six shots. They drilled eight of their first ten. Owls’ freshman guard Dylan Ennis and his mates outscored Marcus Jordan, son of Michael, and the Knights 46-25. Call it a tale of two halves.
The Owls had 4 players score in double figures and Ennis led the way with 15 points. Ennis was 3-of-5 from the 3-point line. Junior forward Arsalan Kazemi, junior guard Tamir Jackson, and freshman forward Jarelle Reischel followed with 12, 11, and 10 points respectively.
The Owls shot 46.9% from the field in the first half, found their rhythm with 59.3% in the second half, and finished the game strong shooting 52.5%. UCF shot 54.2% from the field for the game, but the Owls made up the difference from the 3-point line with 46% shooting versus 41.7% for the Knights. Keith Clanton led the way for UCF with 18.
With the win, the Owls were able to help their Head Coach reach a personal coaching milestone.
BRAUN EARNS CAREER WIN 600
He’s in his 35th year of coaching after stops at Siena Heights, Eastern Michigan twice, once as an assistant, California for 12 seasons, and now Rice. This is Braun’s 4th season and his Owls are 16-12, so far his best. While he’s honored to be recognized for the achievement, he’s also humbled.
“I’ve been a little uncomfortable with the attention that’s been drawn to winning 600 games rather than the attention of my team and our players because that’s all that matters to me. And never along the way thought about coaching milestones or awards or whatever it was.”
Braun is 600-464 for his career. He was the 1997 Pac-10 Coach of the Year while at Cal and a finalist for the 2003 Naismith National Coach of the Year. Braun coached Cal and Eastern Michigan to Sweet 16’s in 1990-91 and 1996-97 respectively.
(I’m) “grateful to coach the guys that I coached and have the coaching staffs that I’ve had. They’ve had a lot to do with accumulating a good portion of those wins over the years.”
“It was never my intention of getting into coaching when I coached. So, now I can get back to business and focus on the team and that kind of thing.”
SOUTHERN MISS AWAITS
Larry Eustachy’s Golden Eagles are led by 6’2” junior guard LaShay Page with 12.1 points per game. However, it is possible that the Golden Eagles will be without Page due to the unfortunate and sad death of his mother earlier this week.
“We’ve gone through it. So, I can feel for them,” says Braun. “But, I am convinced that the team will perform in his absence and maybe even rally around him. That’s going to be something that I think their team will probably choose to support and rally behind.”
Meanwhile, 5’11” senior guard Neil Watson averages 12.0 ppg. Senior guard Darnell Dotson averages 11.6 points per game, while junior forward Jonathan Mills averages 9.6. Senior 6’0” guard Angelo Johnson averages 9.3 points per game.
Junior 6’6” forward Jonathan Mills leads the Golden Eagles on the boards with a 6.1 rebounds per game average. Mills gets help in the paint from 6’10 senior forward Maurice Bolden who is a dominating force in the middle.
The Golden Eagles have the best overall record in C-USA at 22-6. They are also undefeated at home with a clean 13-0 record in Reed Green Coliseum which will have a nice crowd of fans wearing black and gold.
“Tough place to play, tough place to win as the league has found out,” says Braun. “Larry’s really gotten his team to really perform at home. He’s gotten his team to perform all year long. Arguably, may be the best team in the league maybe until just recently when Memphis surpassed them.”
Memphis leads conference play with a 10-3 record while Southern Miss is 9-4. However, it’s USM that’s been the most difficult to defend, says Braun.
“They’ve been a team that’s been awfully hard to match up against. They play great basketball. They play a tough brand of basketball. They’re physically tough kids and their guys are shooting the ball extremely well.”
“And they really hit the boards and get to the line. They do all the things you admire in a team. This could be one of the best teams he’s had.”
But the Owls are also looking to stay on the winning side of things as they have won 3 of their last 4 with only two games to play after Southern Miss, says Braun.
“We’d like to model the second half of Wednesday’s game – kind of keep the momentum going. To have an opportunity to beat them, we’ve got to play at a high level.”
Tipoff gets underway at 7:00.