The Rice men’s basketball team doesn’t make it up to Alaska often, but the school can claim to have never lost a game in The Last Frontier.
Rice (1-2) will face Mercer (2-2) in a first round Great Alaskan Shootout game at 8:30 p.m. CST Thursday. The game will be aired on CBS Sports Network.
While Rice is making it first appearance in the shootout, the school did bring home a BP Top of the World Classic title in 2003. The Owls beat Idaho State, St. Mary’s (Calif.) and Washington State on consecutive days in Fairbanks. That team went on to post a 22-11 record and make an NIT postseason appearance.
A 20-win season in 2014-2015 is a long shot for the Owls in Coach Mike Rhoades’ first year at the helm. In fact, avoiding a third straight 20-loss season might be a more attainable objective. The team has shown some strides in early season win over Prairie View and narrow losses to Oregon State and William & Mary.
While Rice and Mercer have never met, the Owls are 8-1 all-time against Southern Conference competition. Led by Ike Nwamu (14.8 points a game) and Darius Moten (10 ppg), the Bears have beaten Piedmont and Kennesaw State at home and lost road contests at Seton Hall and Colorado State.
Sophomore guard Marcus Jackson has topped the Owls in scoring at 13.3 ppg, including a career-high 30 against Prairie View. Rice’s freshman class has been led by Bishop Mency, who has averaged more than 11 points and 4 rebounds a game early in his career.
Another new name Rice fans may not be familiar with yet is transfer Van Green, who previously played two seasons at Columbia University. The 6-3 foot guard graduated from Columbia and then transferred to Rice for graduate school. He has 17 points and 12 rebound on the season so far.
The Owls will look to continue shooting well from the charity stripe and beyond the arc.
Rice has converted 75.8 percent of its free throws this season to lead Conference USA and rank in the top 30 in the country. Rice has made more than eight 3-pointers per game, also the most in the conference.
The Rice-Mercer winner will meet the winner of Washington State-UC Santa Barbara at 11 p.m. CST Friday. The losers of the two games square off at 5 p.m. Friday. The shootout continues on Saturday.
The tournament quarterfinal round is extended over two days, so the action began Wednesday evening. Pacific defeated Alaska-Anchorage 71-62 and Colorado State conquered Missouri State 76-61.
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