GAME NOTES: The Rice Owls close out their three-game road trip on Saturday at Minges Coliseum against the East Carolina Pirates in the last regular season Conference USA game between the two schools.
Rice is coming off a tough, 55-51 loss at Old Dominion that extended its current slide to three games. Coach Ben Braun's team has dropped five of its last six games to fall to a 7-18 overall record, which includes a 2-10 mark in league play. The Owls have been decent defensively and held their opponents to just over 70 ppg, but they are averaging only 63.5 ppg to rank 15th in the C- USA in scoring offense. Rice is also last in the conference in rebounding margin at -4.8.
Jeff Lebo's Pirates pulled off one of the C-USA's biggest upsets of the season their last time out as they held off Louisiana Tech for a 75-68 decision. The win improved ECU to a 14-13 overall record, including a 3-9 C-USA mark. The Pirates nearly relinquished a 13-point second half lead, but converted 7-of-10 free-throw attempts down the stretch to keep the Bulldogs at bay. ECU is one of the league's most dangerous teams because of its ability to stretch the floor with the outside shot. The Pirates are pacing the C-USA in both made 3- point field goal attempts per game (8.4) and 3-point field goal percentage (.364).
ECU, which will be departing for the American Athletic Conference after the 2013-14 campaign, owns an 8-5 all-time series lead over Rice. The Pirates coasted to a 79-63 victory over the Owls at Tudor Fieldhouse in last season's only encounter.
The Owls stepped up their play defensively versus ODU, limiting the Monarchs to 38.2 percent efficiency from the floor and just three makes on 22 attempts from 3-point range. Rice outscored the Monarchs, 21-9, from behind the 3-point line and received a solid performance out of freshman forward Sean Obi, who recorded a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Max Guercy chipped in 10 points and Austin Ramljak had nine points. Rice could not contain ODU inside which resulted in a 33-19 disadvantage in points in the paint. The 5- foot-9 Guercy is the third leading scorer on the team at 10 ppg, behind Ramljak (11.6 ppg) and Obi (11.6 ppg, 9.7 rpg).
The key to ECU's offense is senior guard Akeem Richmond, who averages a team- high 18 ppg and ranks third nationally with 4.4 makes from beyond the arc per tilt. Although Richmond netted 14 points versus LA Tech, he finished just 3- of-13 from the field. Paris Roberts-Campbell also scored 14 points, while freshman forward Caleb White poured in a team-best 21 points. Sophomore center Michael Zangari tallied nine points, 15 boards and two blocks and Prince Williams came off the bench to tally 15 points, eight assists and five rebounds. Roberts-Campbell and Williams combine for 6.7 of ECU's 14 assists per game.
Although ECU has been sporadic, it should have no trouble fending off the Owls. Rice is not capable of keeping up with the Pirates' high powered attack. The Owls will need to figure out a way to limit ECU's open looks from the perimeter or their losing streak is sure to continue.
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