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Rice, basketball coach Ben Braun part ways after six seasons

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Tuesday’s 63-62 overtime loss to North Texas turned out to be Ben Braun’s final game as Rice University men’s basketball coach.

Braun resigned Thursday following the Owls second consecutive last place finish and first-round exit in the Conference USA Tournament. Rice was 7-23 this season, a year after a 5-26 mark.

The resignation was announced at a Rice news conference Thursday afternoon.

“Ben and I met this morning to review the program, and at that time he expressed to me his decision to resign as our head coach,” Rice Athletic Director Joe Karlgaard said in a school-issued news release. “I want to thank Ben for his hard work during his time at Rice.”

Rice will start a national search for Braun’s replacement.

“We will immediately begin identifying and contacting individuals who we feel are ready to come to Rice and lead this program to an exciting future,” Karlgaard said.

Braun built and maintained a successful program at California, including guiding the Bears to five NCAA Tournament berths and an NIT championship. He was one of 12 active Division I coaches to win 600 career games.

The losses piled up quickly at Rice. He finished his tenure with a record of 63-128, with 49 of those losses coming after the mass player exodus of 2012. Rice was somewhat competitive in games, but the effort didn’t translate into wins. Game attendance was low and the team didn’t receive much attention in the crowded Houston sports market.

“I thought it was in our program’s best interest that I step down as Rice’s head basketball coach,” Braun said. “I want to thank Rice University for the opportunity to coach our team for the last six years. The players, coaches and staff have worked diligently to represent Rice with class and dignity.”

Rice basketball appeared to be on the way up after the Owls earned a berth in the 2012 CollegeInsider.com postseason tournament. Rice won two games in the tournament, and was set up for a possible NCAA or NIT run the following season.

“I am proud we were able to take our program to a postseason tournament as well as achieve academic excellence off the court,” Braun said.

Rice lost six players with eligibility remaining that offseason – Arsalan Kazemi, Dylan Ennis, David Chadwick, Omar Oraby, Jarelle Reischel and Ahmad Ibrahim – forcing Braun to in many ways start from scratch.

In waivers to the NCAA, Kazemi and Oraby cited racial discrimination as their reason for leaving. Braun and former AD Rick Greenspan strongly denied the allegations.

Rice lost to a Division II team at home to start the 2012-2013 campaign and proceeded to only win one conference game all season. This season, Rice was within striking distance of opponents in several C-USA games, but only managed two conference victories. The season ended with an 8-game losing streak.

There were signs of optimism, including the emergence of Sean Obi, who averaged nearly a double-double and made C-USA’s all-freshman team.

“I believe both the returning players and those currently signed for next year will form the nucleus for a very solid future,” Braun said. “The team will always have my support.”

Under Braun, Rice received several classroom accolades, including the C-USA Men’s Basketball Academic Award four times in 2010-2013. Braun’s players also earned nine NABC Honors Court selections which is awarded to players who are either in their junior or senior year and have a cumulative GPA of 3.2 or higher.

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