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Rice Rally Falls Short Against Tulsa

Rice couldn't repeat its first-round upset magic, falling in the Conference USA tournament to 2-seed Tulsa, by a score of 81-72.

The Owls got behind early, and trailed by double digits for much of the second half, but fought back, and actually had possession of the ball, trailing by just five points with under two and a half minutes to play, but head coach Ben Braun made the controversial decision not to call a timeout and get his best player, Arsalan Kazemi, on the floor. Rice failed to convert the offensive possession, Tulsa's Jordan Clarkson converted a three-point play on the other end, and that was that.

The Owls showed tremendous heart to stay in the game as long as they did, despite a number of factors working against them. The normally steady Kazemi missed his first eight free throw attempts, Tamir Jackson clearly wasn't himself while battling injuries, and none of the Owls' shooters could find the stroke from outside, as Rice shot just 4-of-14 from beyond the arc as a team.

Rice finishes the season with a 14-18 record, but a myriad of close losses makes one wonder if the season could have turned out much differently if a few more breaks had gone the Owls' way. Thursday's loss marks the end of the college careers of Bryan Beasley, Suleiman Braimoh, Cory Pflieger and Trey Stanton, but Rice has a talented, young core returning. Jackson and Kazemi are just sophomores, Connor Frizzelle and Lucas Kuipers have another year of eligibility, and even little-used freshman Omar Oraby, a 7'2" center who hadn't scored a point in the Owls' last 12 games, showed some flashes of talent on Thursday. With his size, he could be a threat in Conference USA with a little more seasoning.

The Golden Hurricane were led by Clarkson's 21 points, Justin Hurtt's 15 points, and Steven Idlet's 12-point, 8-rebound performance. Tulsa has a date with the hosts and highest remaining seed UTEP on Friday in the tournament semi-final.

Images by eflon used in background images under a Creative Commons license. Thank you.