Given the circumstances, things could have gone completely sideways for Owls Sr. G/F Cliff Ghoram on Saturday against LSU at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, La.
For the first, and last, time in his Rice career, Ghoram played before his hometown family and friends. Having graduated from Zachary High School
, roughly 20 miles north of the Maravich Assembly Center
, Ghoram dreamed of playing for and representing LSU in the days of his youth. That opportunity never manifested but a chance to perform before four dozen supporters did, and despite the sentimentality of the moment Ghoram did not disappoint, posting season highs in points (17) and rebounds (8) in the Owls' 65-61 loss to the Tigers
. The outcome of the game left Ghoram longing, but shining in front of the home crowd was fulfilling.
"I didn't want to do anything outside my box. I just wanted to be aggressive and make sure I did what was best for the team and try to help us get this win," Ghoram said. "I really wanted it on a personal level because, being from the Baton Rouge area, my family and friends are all somewhat close to LSU in a sense. I attended LSU basketball camps when I was younger and had thoughts about LSU as my future school. But I'm happy I chose Rice and I'm happy I got the opportunity to come back home and show my family how I play."
Whereas early lulls spelled doom at Arizona and at Harvard, the Owls were aggressive from the opening tip against LSU. Ghoram was particularly invested early, and he was later joined by freshmen Arsalan Kazemi (who might join the starting lineup in the very near future) and Tamir Jackson in helping keep the Owls in contention. Rice coach Ben Braun rightfully noted the trio's energetic efforts in the postgame presser while lamenting the lack of impact from several key veterans in the rotation. Braun wasn't calling to the carpet anyone in particular, but he did pointedly express the Owls' desperate need for contributions up and down their roster.
Ghoram recognized the benefit of supporting his slumping teammates, acknowledging that his inspired and productive performance was motivated in part to fill the gap left by those who struggled. He will inevitably scuffle on occasion, and he hopes someone will have his back.
"If one guy is down or he didn't have his best game, we just need to be there for each other. Keep being like a family," Ghoram said. "We'll get over this hump together if we keep picking each other up as a team. I won't have great games all the time, and I need guys to help me out as we tried to help out the guys that didn't have great games (at LSU). That happens."
The women would be wise to heed that sage advice, for they aren't as close to a breakthrough victory as the men. Following consecutive wins at the Gene Hackerman Invitational and a momentum-snuffing two-week hiatus, the Owls rallied from a double-digit halftime deficit at Lamar on Sunday only to crater over the last 10 minutes in an 82-66 loss that wasn't as decisive as the final score indicated. Per usual, most of the Owls' wounds were self-inflicted.
The Owls trailed by as many as 14 points late in the first half, but when Fr. G Jessica Goswitz completed a three-point play at the 10:05 mark of the second half, the Owls trailed 60-57. What followed was a maddening exercise in futility as the Owls tried in vain to cap the rally.
Over the ensuing seven minutes and 22 seconds the Owls missed all 10 shots they attempted and committed five turnovers, many of the unforced variety. By the time So. G D'Frantz Smart scored on a layup with 2:43 remaining, the Owls were again trailing by double digits.
"We've got some players that - what can you say? - get nervous," Owls coach Greg Williams said. "You can see it in their eyes they get nervous; they freeze up. They want to get rid of the ball or they don't want the ball or they don't want to be aggressive with the ball. That's why we shot (only) 12 free throws. That's frustrating because that's not how we want them to play.
"We've got some kids right now that aren't playing well and they know they aren't playing well, and it's a mental thing with some of them. It's like a hitter in baseball - if you're not hitting you can't go up there and take three strikes. You've still got to swing the bat and stay aggressive."
The statistics supported the notion Lamar was the superior team: the Cardinals were plus-20 in free-throw attempts, plus-14 in rebounds and plus-12 in second-chance points. The Owls were not only athletically inferior, they were less assertive and roundly outworked on the glass. But despite those facts, the Owls were within three entering the final quarter of the contest. Better ball security and improved confidence might have rendered those statistics moot, and as soon as the Owls come to realize they aren't as talent-challenged as they occasionally appear, games like their ninth of this season will shift from the loss column to a desired locale.
"We need to pull together and work hard," said Owls Jr. F Morgan Mayse, who played brilliantly (17 points, six rebounds, four assists in 31 minutes) while So. C Jackie Stanley labored with her cranky, surgically-repaired knee. "We've got to do it for 40 minutes."