HOUSTON -- The Owls came out firing 3-pointers as their first 12 points were the result of shots from behind the arc by senior guard Austin Ramljak and another by junior forward Seth Gearhart. They needed them as Florida International jumped out to a 7-0 lead to start the game only to go cold and allow the Rice sharpshooters to find their rhythm.
“We knew they were a good team,” said FIU head coach Anthony Evans. “We watched them play Texas A&M and some of those teams very close. So, they were going to be home, they were going to be comfortable, and we had to withstand any run that they had.”
“(FIU) hit some shots early,” said Rice head coach Ben Braun. “That’s not their forte, knocking down some shots, but they did. Give them credit. But, we came back, battled back and that was inconsequential.”
Inconsequential is the best way to sum it up once the game was said and done as Rice fell to FIU, 71-60. While the Owls had their chances against the Panthers, they were not able to capitalize as 6-foot-5 senior forward Tymell Murphy scored 20 of his 22 points in the second half; more specifically, with only 10:18 remaining in the game. He was the ‘go-to’ guy for Evans and his squad.
“Well, he’s one of them,” said Evans. “Rakeem Buckles didn’t have a great game tonight. But Ty put us on his shoulders and he brought the win home.”
THE WAY IT UNFOLDED
The beginning of the game might have seemed inconsequential from the start as both teams went score-for-score once the Owls tied the game up at 12, which resulted in neither team leading by more than four points in the first half.
Ramljak led Rice with nine points on 3-of-6 shooting from the field, all on 3-pointers. In fact, the Owls were 5-of-14 from 3-point range in the first half. Six-foot-9 freshman forward Sean Obi scored two points, but managed to lead the Owls with four rebounds.
Florida International was led by 6-foot-3 redshirt junior transfer, Dennis Mavin, with 11 points. The first half ended with the Panthers leading the Owls 33-32.
The second half started very similar to the first with neither team leading by no more than three until the 3:15 mark of the second half. That’s when FIU began to take advantage of opportunities, with Murphy taking charge.
“We gave up some drives where they got to the rim on us and we’ve got to do a better job of not giving up that kind of penetration,” said Braun.
“When we closed down the lane, closed down those gaps, we really made them struggle and take some tougher shots, and when we rebounded, that was in our favor. But, we allowed them to get to the rim far too many times in the second half whether it was man or zone. Those were the differences in the game down the stretch,” said Braun.
TALE OF THE TAPE
The Owls were out-rebounded 37 to 34, but were slightly better from the free-throw line, 13-of-19 compared to 9-of-16 for FIU. Both teams protected the basketball pretty well in only turning it over six times each.
Murphy led the Panthers with 22 points and 15 boards followed by Dennis Mavin with 16 points and nine rebounds. It was down low where the Owls suffered most, allowing 30 points in the paint.
Rice was led by Ramljak with 14 points followed by Seth Gearhart with eight, and Sean Obi with seven points and eight rebounds. Six-foot-10 freshman Andrew Drone opened up conference play with nine points and five rebounds.
While FIU got its first Conference USA victory on the road, the Rice Owls began conference play 0-1.
“Whether you play at home or on the road, your opener is your opener,” said Braun. “It’s behind us and we’ve got to take something from this game and we’ve got to step up on Saturday. You’ve got a home stand, you get two home games and we’ve got an opportunity to come back on Saturday and fight for a split and we’ll take that at this point.”
Florida International is 9-7 and will travel to face Louisiana Tech on Saturday. Rice, on the other hand, is 5-9 and will host Florida Atlantic on Saturday.