While recognizing his team's youth and its tendency to waver down the stretch, Rice coach Mo Hicks has demanded the composure of a veteran team. Hicks' precocious group took a step forward on Sunday when they held off a seasoned Chicago Simeon team 53-51 at the Nike Super Six at Madison Square Garden.
"They responded well," said Hicks. "They didn't crack. I think the experience of our schedule- we've played some really good teams early this season, like Norcross from Georgia- prepared them for this game."
Simeon picked apart a late deficit with the help of Kevin Johnson and Derrick Rose. A pair of putbacks by Johnson cut Rice's lead to 40-39 with 4:26 to play. Rose finally put Simeon ahead at 47-46 with 1:33 to play, surging along the baseline for a three-point play.
It was at that point that Rice showed its resolve. Randy Battle's leaner at 1:08 regained the lead at 48-47, and the Raiders parlayed a steal on the next possession into a transition basket for Durand Scott. After Rose cut the lead to one with a double-clutch lay-up, Rice was finally able to shut the door on a lay-up by Lamont Jones off of the inbound with 12 seconds left.
While Rose, the Memphis-bound point guard who is among the nation's elite players, scored 22 points, Rice guard Kemba Walker was credited with keeping him in check.
"I thought that Kemba did a very good job," said Hicks. "He was up to the task. We had worked on how to defend (Rose) and giving help."
Walker and shooting guard Chris Fouch- who hit a pair of first half three-pointers- led Rice with 14 points. But in typical Rice fashion, it was the team's collective toughness and tenacity that helped them to compensate for a lack of size, brawn, and experience.