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Rice basketball playing role of spoiler on Senior Night

Rice senior Austin Ramljak splits the defense during a game against Georgia Tech last season. Thursday’s game against Louisiana Tech will be the final home contest for Ramljak and Bahrom Firozgary.

The Rice Owls can’t improve their Conference USA Tournament seeding Thursday, but they can send the team’s two seniors out victorious in their final game at Tudor Fieldhouse.

They also can cost Louisiana Tech a share of the Conference USA title.

Rice will honor seniors Austin Ramljak and Bahrom Firozgary before the Owls take on C-USA co-leader Louisiana Tech. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

The Owls (7-21) have lost six straight games and 13 out of its 15 conference contests. Rice is guaranteed to finish last in the conference for the second straight season. They will be the No. 15 seed in the C-USA Tournament in El Paso because Florida International in ineligible to participate.

La Tech could be seeded anywhere from 1 to 5. The Bulldogs (24-6, 12-3) are in a four-way tie for first with Southern Mississippi, Middle Tennessee State and Tulsa. UTEP is one game back of that quartet. Each team has one game left, so a shared title is likely.

Louisiana Tech is the only team Rice will play twice in conference play. The Owls lost at La Tech 85-46 on Feb. 15. No Rice player scored in double-digits and the team was outrebounded 41 to 24. Rice freshman post player Sean Obi had one of his least productive games with six points and four rebounds.

“We limited [Sean Obi’s] touches,” said Louisiana Tech coach Michael White in a news release. “We just extended our pressure so well in the press and in the half court. We got our hands on a lot of basketballs. The least amount he touches the basketball, the better chance we have. He is a load. Our pressure has to be very important and Michale Kyser has to beat him with his speed. We have got to beat him up and down the floor.”

Obi is averaging nearly a double-double on the season with 11.4 points and 9.5 rebound a game. However, he is coming off a tough game at Middle Tennessee State Saturday (3 points, 4 rebounds, 4 fouls, 4 turnovers).

Ramljak did not make the Middle Tennessee State trip due to a hand injury. The Thousand Oaks, Calif. native leads the Owls in points per game (11.7), 3-pointers (83) and 3-point shooting percentage (.393). He has been the team’s leading scorer nine times this season, including a 25-point performance against Rider.

Ramljak arrived at Rice before the 2012-2013 season. He played his first two collegiate seasons at Ventura College.

Firozgary also has been with the Owls for two seasons. A Houston native who graduated from Stratford High School, Firozgary has scored 53 points and grabbed 46 rebounds in his Rice career. Almost half of the points have come from the free throw line where he is 23 of 35. He has shot 50 percent from the field and made two starts against UTEP and SMU.

Both seniors will be guests tonight during the Ben Braun Coach’s Show at 7 p.m. inside Genghis Grill, 3879 Southwest Freeway.

Rice will play the No. 10 seed C-USA team on Tuesday in the opening round of the tournament. Opponent and time will be known after Thursday’s games.

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