FIU (8-7) at Rice (5-8)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, January 9, 8 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Tudor Fieldhouse (5,750) -- Houston, Texas. Television: None. Home Record: FIU 5-2, Rice 3-3. Away Record: FIU 2-3, Rice 2-3. Neutral Record: FIU 1-2, Rice 0-2. Conference Record: FIU 0-0, Rice 0-0. Series Record: First-ever meeting.
GAME NOTES: The FIU Panthers will play their inaugural Conference USA game on Thursday night, as they pull into Tudor Fieldhouse to tangle with the Rice Owls.
FIU, which has made the transition to C-USA after spending the last 15 seasons in the Sun Belt, had a mediocre trek through non-conference play, entering this clash with a record of 8-7. That mark has been getting worse recently, with the Panthers losing their last three outings. This is the third leg of a four-game road trip for FIU, which ends at Louisiana Tech on Saturday.
Rice is also suffering from a three-game losing streak after dropping a 69-54 decision to Harvard in the first installment of its current three-game homestand. The Owls are 5-8 overall, with a 3-3 split of their home contests. Rice is in its ninth season in Conference USA, and the team will host FAU next.
This will not only be the first time these two teams have met as conference foes, but the first time they have ever met.
It took an extra session for FIU to be defeated by Florida A&M last time out. The Panthers had six players score in double figures, including Dennis Mavin, who finished with 24 points. However, they only hit 1-of-7 shots from the floor in the overtime in suffering yet another setback.
The bulk of the offensive production for FIU this season has been spread among three players. Sitting at the top is Tymell Murphy (16.1 ppg, 7.4 rpg), who is connecting on 62 percent of his attempts from the floor and is one of five players on the roster logging at least 30 minutes per game. Rakeem Buckles (14.3 ppg, 10.5 rpg) is the next best scoring option, joining Murphy in the frontcourt, where he is a constant double-double threat. Buckles had 11 points and 16 rebounds in the loss to FAMU. Mavin (11.1 ppg) is also scoring in double figures, although he is connecting on just 36.1 percent of his total shots.
Sloppy play at both ends of the floor doomed Rice against Harvard. The Owls committed 21 personal fouls, which led to a 21-10 scoring differential from the free-throw line, and they were also guilty of 15 turnovers. Keith Washington was the only player to reach double figures, finishing with 11 points.
Rice is one of the worst offensive teams in C-USA, as it is producing just 66.2 ppg and connecting on 41 percent of its field goal attempts. Those marks rank 15th and 16th, respectively, among all league teams. They are also weak on the boards, collecting just 34.4 rpg. Austin Ramljak (12.4 ppg) is tops among three players averaging in double figures for the Owls, but he was limited to eight points on 2-of-6 shooting against the Crimson. Sean Obi (11.5 ppg, 9.3 rpg) is known more for his work on the glass, but he can be leaned on when called upon at the offensive end, and Max Guercy (10.5 pg, 3.7 apg) is able to knock down shots, although not at an ideal rate (.333).
The Owls are going to have a difficult time dealing with Buckles and Murphy up front, with Obi serving as their only real interior presence. If the Panthers are able to assert their dominance inside, they should capture the hard-fought road victory.
Sports Network PRedicted Outcome: FIU 73, Rice 68
01/09 10:36:30 ET