HOUSTON (CBS-Houston) – College basketball is still being played over on South Main and Saturday night represents tournament play. The Rice Owls have extended play past the first round of a post-season tournament for the first time since 1993 after a 68-63 win over Louisiana-Lafayette at the Cajundome on last Wednesday.
Connor Frizzelle poured in 18 points while Arsalan Kazemi grabbed 12 rebounds and scored seven points in the win. The Owls only led by one point at the end of the first half, 33-32. Owls Head Coach Ben Braun says he was amazed by the way the first half ended due to the physical play of the Rajun Cajuns.
“They’re athletic, they’re aggressive and they were hurting us on the glass. They were hurting us in transition. They were just beating us to the ball. They were way more athletic than we were. It wasn’t even close.”
The Owls were outscored 16-10 in the paint area during first half.
“We were out-quicked to the ball, says Braun. “We were out-toughed to the glass. They had about five dunks in the first half on us. I don’t mean just dunks – I mean jams. I couldn’t believe we were up at half. I couldn’t believe it. I looked up and said – we’re up by a point. I said how did that happen?”
AD GREENSPAN TO THE RESCUE
It was the same question Braun asked himself after he was told the Owls would be hosting a second-round tournament game. That might not have happened had it not been for the efforts of Rice Athletic Director Rick Greenspan.
According to Braun, hosting a tournament game was necessary for all the right reasons – especially academically. During the Owls/Rajun-Cajun tournament game, the venue had to be selected for the upcoming match-up. Once the Owls came away with the win, Greenspan, according to Braun, took the necessary action.
“We had an opportunity to host. Rick (Greenspan) was on the trip and he seized that opportunity and I’m thankful and our team is thankful for that. It does a couple of things for us. Number one – it saves us from being on the road yet another game for academic purposes – we would have missed three days of classes this week.”
“(Two) I think it’s kind of a reward there for winning a game – being able to host a game – and we’re playing a good team in Drake. So, it’s a great opportunity for us. We’re really fortunate that we were able to do that and (thank) Rick because he’s the one who had the conversation with the committee and I believe he made it happen.”
MATCHING UP WITH DRAKE
Now that the first round of the CIT is in the rearview mirror, the 18-15 Owls will prepare for a Drake team with an identical overall record. They are also .500 at 9-9 in the Missouri Valley Conference as the Owls are 8-8 in Conference USA.
“A team like Drake, who’s got good history in the Missouri Valley – their league is obviously one of the more competitive leagues in the country,” says Braun. “They’ve got some outstanding teams in their league. They played Northern Iowa” (lost twice).
Teams such as Indiana State – Larry Bird’s Alma Mater, Missouri State, Creighton, Northern Iowa, Bradley, Evansville, and Wichita State are just some of the teams that make up the MVC.
“This team beat Iowa State,” (74-65) adds Braun. “So, we know to beat Iowa State you have to be awfully good and well-coached. We’ve watched them play now. I’ve watched some tape and seen them play and they’re talented. They do a good job. This is a really good basketball matchup.”
Rayvonte Rice and Ben Simmons are the go-to guys for the Bulldogs. They average 16.6 and 16.3 respectively. Because of their 6’4” and 6’6” frames, they provide a physical presence at the guard and forward spots for Bulldogs Head Coach Mark Phelps that’s tough to defend says Braun.
“Those two guys are a load. They do the brunt of their scoring and they’re very good players. I’ve watched those guys play and they’re very talented.”
OWLS DeBOSE TO START
Rice averages 69.5 points per game while allowing opponents 66 ppg. Junior 6’7” forward Arsalan Kazemi leads the way in scoring and rebounding with a double-double average of 12.2 points and 10.4 boards per game. Tamir Jackson is the other Owl with a double-figure scoring average of 10.5 ppg.
Freshman guard Julian DeBose will get a second straight start as he scored 10 points in 27 minutes of work against the Ragin’ Cajuns. Senior Connor Frizzelle played 32 minutes, scored 18 points in 6-of-12 shooting. However, Braun likes what he gets from DeBose.
“He’s played well in practice,” says Braun. I thought he played well in the tournament when he started for us in the tournament. And I think he’s been playing the best basketball at the wing position right now. I brought Connor off the bench who ended up having a good game.”
“But Julian has deserved to play based on his practice and his game performance – certainly his practice – he’s really had some outstanding practices.”
Braun also stated that Ahmad Ibrahim and Dan Peera who didn’t travel to Lafayette for academic reasons are both available for Saturday night’s 7:00 game at Tudor Fieldhouse.