The Rice Owls won eight basketball games all of last season. But things change, and yesterday, after defeating the TCU Horned Frogs 70-61, the Rice Owls have win number eight and they've yet to reach conference play.
The game didn't play out quiet the same way for Rice as last week's win over LSU played out. The 8-6 Owls quickly fell behind to TCU and were down 19-9 9:09 into the game. But the Owls, showing a confidence that has been growing over the season, especially since a win against Lamar early in December, crawled back into the game. And with time running out in the first half, guard Connor Frizzelle nailed a three from NBA three-point range to tie the game at 30-30.
Momentum was clearly on the side of the Owls at that point, and they never looked back. They came out on a 11-0 run to start the second half, and the closest that TCU could get to Rice was 60-56 with 2:03 left in the game. That's when it turned into a free-throw contest and the Owls, who had trouble from the charity stripe against LSU, wouldn't be denied, going 10-10 from the line over the remainder of the game to seal the victory.
"TCU came out hard, 15-5, and our guys kept plugging," head coach Ben Braun said. "There was nobody complaining to officials. There was nobody complaining with each other or pointing fingers. We had a tough start, but we maintained our composure throughout the first half until we tied it. We had a little momentum going in -- Connor, huge shot by the way - to tie it up.
While the win over LSU looks more impressive to the untrained eye, what with LSU being the power conference team from the SEC, and having made the Final Four in the past decade, TCU could be seen as having played the tougher schedule so far this season. Thus making it a good win to close out the non-conference portion of the schedule and giving the team momentum as they head into C-USA play on Wednesday night.
"I think whenever you win a few big games, it always gives you momentum," forward Trey Stanton said. "It's good timing right now just because we're going into conference, and it's good for our team, because our confidence is high, and I think we're going to do some good things this year."
The most noteworthy team about the Owls, the thing that stands out most, is how the team appears to have grown from earlier in the season, especially after the loss to Arizona when forward Arsalan Kazemi called out his teammates for being scared. While they might have been scared in that game, they don't appear to have shown any fear since. So that they while they might fall behind teams, they find a way to work themselves back into games and put themselves into a position for the win.
"I did sense that our team is playing with that type of confidence," Braun said about their feeling they can now overcome anything. "I don't want us to get into a pattern where we fall behind and have to climb."
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The players are not letting mistakes get to them. Braun and the guys say they put any mistake they make behind them and concentrate on what needs to be done next, whether it's playing solid defense or running their offensive sets and finding the open guy. And when the game gets toward the end, the Owls claim they have learned how to put away their opponent.
"Our nemesis in the past has been closing games," Stanton said. "And now, all it is confidence that we can have close teams out. We have confidence that we can stomp on people, and that's what we're doing."
The Rice Owls having confidence on the basketball court is not something that has been seen very often in years past. They're only 8-6, and they've only just gotten through a non-conference schedule that, while containing some big teams, Texas, Arizona, LSU, TCU, has had its share of creampuffs. But with Arsalan Kazemi dominating games down low, solid perimeter work from Tamir Jackson, and key bench play from Stanton and Frizzelle, and this confidence that they can win games, the Rice Owls appear poised to wreak havoc on C-USA.
SOME MISCELLANEOUS NOTES: Arsalan Kazemi, who was the C-USA player of the week last week, was once again Rice's leading scorer, finishing with 20 points and nine rebounds. Connor Frizzelle finished with 14 points, including the three pointer that tied the game going into the half. Trey Stanton finished with 11 points and nine rebounds....Rice's next game is on Wednesday night as they host Tulane at 7 p.m. to open conference play.