MTSU's men had a familiar path to defeat on Saturday as the Blue Raiders fell behind big to Rice and saw a strong comeback go for naught in a 91-83 home loss to to Rice.
“Rice ran a matchup zone and it can cause the offense to go stagnant, but later in the second half we figured it out and starting scoring,” MTSU coach Nick McDevitt said. “We have been doing some good things but they just are not leading to enough wins.”
Rice filled the bucket up early and often in the first 20 minutes, shooting 63 percent as a team and knocking down 8 of their last 9 field to build a 45-32 lead at the break.
“We did not do a great job guarding them,” McDevitt said. “They did nothing complicated. They create mismatches with their height, forcing us to guard them on the perimeter.”
CJ Jones was the lone bright spot early, scoring 13 points on three treys in the first half.
With flashbacks from Thursday night's defeat from North Texas, Antonio Green caught fire from long range. The Blue Raider guard scored three times from deep as part of an effort to trim the Owls lead to five with 1:24 left. Rice made 12 of 12 free throws down the stretch to squander any chance of a Blue Raider comeback.
“We got more comfortable attacking their defense,” McDevitt said. “We only have a one-day prep to coach our young team and freshman to play against the matchup zone.”
Jones scored a team-high 24 points, including six 3-pointers. Antonio Green contributed 19 points, 17 coming in the second half.
Jo’Vontae Millner contributed greatly to the offensive glass, grabbing 12 rebounds (eight offensive) on his way to his second double-double of the season with 13 points. Millner helped the Blue Raiders score 25 second chance points.
“It feels good to be back,” Millner said after battling early-season injuries. “Frustration showed when I came back, but now it feels a lot better to be on the healthier side and help my teammates out.”
RICE (91): Josh Parrish 21, Trey Murphy III 21, Chris Mullins 16, Drew Peterson 8, Payton Moore 8, Tommy McCarthy 8, Quincy Olivari 5, Robert Martin 4
MTSU (83): CJ Jones 24, Antonio Green 19, Jo’Vontae Millner 13, Jayce Johnson 9, Reggie Scurry 8, Donovan Sims 7, Tyson Jackson 3