HOUSTON - Christal Porter practices making free throw several times a week during basketball season
But how often does the Rice sophomore forward practice missing free throws?
That’s what she needed to do with the Owls trailing Tulane 68-65 with 4.9 seconds left in Thursday‘s home game. Porter was fouled after grabbing an offensive board following teammate Jessica Kuster’s missed 3-pointer. Porter hit the first one and Tulane called a timeout before her second attempt.
Rice coach Greg Williams instructed Porter to miss on purpose, but her attempt never hit the rim. Tulane iced the game .8 seconds later on a Tyria Snow free throw. Tulane won 69-65.
“I don’t work on missing free throws, but it happens a lot in practice so maybe I should have shot it regular,” Porter said. “I tried to miss it, but I got too much power behind it. I feel like it grazed the rim slightly, but we didn’t get the call.”
Porter was a big reason the Owls (9-7, 1-2 in Conference USA) had a shot to pull off the win over the preseason conference favorites. She scored 17 points, grabbed nine rebounds and distributed three assists.
However, Rice was hurt by committing 21 turnovers, including two in the final minute of the game.
“We struggled with turnovers,” Williams said. “The point differential on turnovers was five and we lost by four. It was interesting because they started out pressing us and we handed that very well. Then they took the press off, and that’s when we had more turnovers.”
The Owls have the ninth youngest team in Division I and Williams said inexperience and nerves may have played a role in poor ball-handling down the stretch.
“When you are trying to get back in games in the last three or four minutes, you can’t turn it over,” Williams said. “That really hurt us, but I liked our effort.”
The loss snapped a seven game home win streak for Rice at Tudor Fieldhouse. Ironically, Tulane (13-3, 2-1) won its seventh straight game away from home.
The Green Wave shot 46 percent from the field and overcame 11 missed free throws. Janique Kautsky led the way with 17 points while Danielle Blagg added 13.
The Owls used a 6-0 run to build a 10-point lead nine minutes into the game. Kuster started the spurt with a turnaround jumper and sophomore forward Porter notched back-to-back inside scores.
Another Porter score gave Rice a 27-19 lead a few minutes later, but the Green Wave dominated the rest of the half. They used a 21-8 run to take a 40-35 lead into the locker room at halftime.
“We were a lot more patient on offense,” Kuster said about building the early lead. “Then we got stagnate on offense and started to turn the ball over. That led them back into the game.”
Tulane led most of the second half, but Rice caught up with 7:12 left after a 3-point play from Nakachi Maduka and four made free throws by Maduka and Megan Palmer.
Tulane scored the next eight points, but again the Owls chipped away. Buckets by Porter and Palmer slashed the lead to four with 1:33 to go.
Tulane missed its next shot, but Kautsky stole a pass and was fouled. She hit both free throws and then Rice turned it over on an over-and-back violation.
Kuster finished with 15 points and seven boards. As a team Rice won the rebound battle 44 to 30. The Owls had been yielding an average of 41 boards a game.
“We outrebounded them, but because we shot a low percentage there was a lot of rebounds to be had,” Kuster said. “Since neither team shot well, it was really important we got rebounds. It was significant to limit Tulane to one shot a possession.”
The Owls head to Dallas to battle SMU (11-4, 2-0) at 2 p.m. Sunday. They return home to face UTEP (14-1, 2-0) on Jan. 24.