HOUSTON (CBS-Houston) – Down but not out is probably a reasonable phrase to use when describing how post-season play began for the Owls. After losing 68-66 to East Carolina last week in the Conference USA Basketball Tournament, the Owls had to await their fate regarding post-season.
Because of the play the Owls displayed this season, they find themselves poised to play Louisiana-Lafayette in the opening round of the CollegeInsider.com post-season tournament that gets underway Wednesday night in Lafayette, Louisiana.
“At this stage of the year, you know to be one of the teams selected to play in a post-season tournament, it’s an important step for our program,” says Rice Head Basketball Coach, Ben Braun. “I know if you’re a Duke or North Carolina, this would be a step backwards. But, it’s not for where we’ve come from and hopefully this is the start of something.”
The Owls are 17-15 going into the tournament which is the most wins since the 2004-05 hoop season. This is also the most in Braun’s tenure during his four seasons as the Rice Head Coach. Recognition for a program on the upswing is always good says the Head Coach.
“Our goal is obviously to play in a post-season NCAA Tournament and I think our program is getting closer to doing that. So, that’s really an important thing is that post-season being one of a little over 100 teams playing at the end of the season is really important for our program.”
The seniors get a reward for their efforts which is how Connor Frizzelle, Lucas Kuipers, Emerson Herndon, and Nate Schwarze would want to end their careers. But, Braun also recognizes that this experience is good for the young guys; Ennis, Oraby, Reischel, DeBose, Ibrahim, while juniors Kazemi and Jackson will also benefit in a big way.
“It’s a chance for us to put out what our team can accomplish if we’re playing together, if we’re playing hard. We’ve had some big wins this year. We’ve had some wins over programs that, previously, we’ve had some trouble defeating.”
Wins over teams such as Texas A&M, SMU, Tulane, Houston, and UTEP, to name a few, helped to get the Owls to their 17-win season. But, from the beginning of the season, extending play past the regular season was a top priority, says Braun.
“It’s important that our team comes out and gets a chance to get a taste of post-season and play in a tournament where it’s one-and-done; you play and advance or you go home. So, I think it’s important that our team has that experience and knows what post-season is all about.”
The Owls average 69.6 points per game while allowing opponents 66.1 ppg. Owls 6’7” junior forward Arsalan Kazemi leads the way in scoring and rebounding with a double-double average of 12.4 and 10.3 per game.
The Ragin’ Cajuns are 16-15 on the season and are led in scoring by senior guard Josh Brown who averages 10.4 points and 6.4 rebounds. Braun knows that a Bob Martin coached team will be ready to compete.
“Boy – nobody wanted to play his teams at Sam Houston because his teams were competitive, they were hungry, they were aggressive, and they were defensive minded teams and they were teams that were really tough to play against. So, got a lot of respect for Bob and his teams are going to be well-coached, they’re going to be hungry.”
“Obviously, playing in Lafayette – that’s a challenge because they’ve had a pretty good home court going there. So, it’s a good challenge for our program and I think it’s a challenge that our program and players are going to appreciate.”
Louisiana- Lafayette is 10-4 on the home floor. Head Coach Bob Martin also sports one of the nation’s leading shot blockers in junior center Kaddem Coleby. The 6-9, 250-pound transfer from Odessa College and Daytona State averages 9.6 points and 5.0 rebounds and has blocked 72 shots on the year.
Strangely though, the Rajun Cajuns lost two key players from their arsenal in junior guard Raymone Andrews and sophomore forward J.J. Thomas who were suspended from the squad and since have been released from the team.
OWLS AT CAJUNDOME
Meanwhile for the Owls, junior guard Tamir Jackson also averages double figures with 10.5 ppg. Senior guard Connor Frizzelle averages 9.3 ppg, while freshman point guard Dylan Ennis and freshman forward Ahmad Ibrahim average 8.0 and 6.1 points per game respectively.
Speaking of Ibrahim, he is not on this trip. However, if the Owls advance, there is a good chance that he could rejoin the team.
Freshmen Jarelle Reischel and Julian DeBose have also been solid contributors for the Owls as well this season. Reischel averages 5.5 ppg while DeBose chips in with 3.4 ppg.
Post-season play tips off at 7:05 Wednesday evening in the Cajundome. Braun says the venue will not be OWL friendly.
“This time of the year you’re not going to go anywhere where it’s going to be friendly. Nobody’s going to roll out the red carpet for you. You have to show up there and play”
“I don’t think they’re quite going to be rooting for the Owls Wednesday night!”