Rice 55, Valley Mills 52
They did it again, those scrappy, tough, no-quit Bulldogs from Rice pulled off another win Thursday and they did it the only way they know how — diving head first with enough grit and desire to out-run and out-hustle a much bigger and more physical team from Valley Mills.
Rice, which doesn’t have a starter over 6-feet tall, somehow knocked off the Eagles and 6-8 Garrett Vannetta, who scored 34 points and seemed unstoppable at times.
But the Rice kids made stops when they had to, and stole this one right from under the taller Eagles — literally.
Trailing 50-46 with about five minutes left in the game, Daniel Arteaga busted a 3-pointer to close to 50-49 and then Rice came up with three steals in a span of less than two minutes and Sim Nezar cashed in on all three steals for three fastbreak drives to lift Rice to a 55-50 lead with 3:30 left.
“We had to be quick. We and to make steals,’’ said Nezar, who led Rice with 25 points.
That’s the way everyone at Rice feels these days.
It’s that quickness that has produced a 7-0 start — quickness and another big ingredient.
“Heart, this team has heart,’’ Rice Coach Phillip Eddins said after the win. “We preach to our kids about having a lot of heart, and we believe we have a lot of heart. We don’t have a starter over 6-feet tall. If we don’t go out there and play with heart we will get a tail-kicking every night. They know that.’’
The Rice kids play like there’s no time on the clock from the opening tip, running and scrambling and making things happen on both ends of the court with an unrelenting defense and an in-your-face offense that challenges bigger opponents. They bring a lot of energy and then feed off each other.
“We have to play quick and aggressive defense,’’ said Arteaga, the team’s point guard who runs the offense and finished with 14 points. “We have to be quick and we have to work and give it our best and just get after them. Our defense has to make up for our lack of height. We hustle more than any team. We’re little little gnats.’’
They do swarm and they keep coming.
There were moments Tuesday when Valley Mill’s larger front look too intimidating, but evidently, nothing intimidates’ Eddins’ kid.
“I can’t say enough abut these kids,’’ said Eddins , whose team won 11 games last year. “We’re 7-0 and six of those games have been within 10 points. These kids have just sold out to play defense and hustle.
Arteaga is the only senior on a this young gnat-like team, but Eddins says he brings great senior leadership every time he brings the ball up the court. Nezar is just a freshman, but has led Rice in scoring all season. But it’s an all-for-one - type team
Raven Huffman scored five points and Austin Peppers added four for the Bulldogs while Colin Haston (3) and Jamie Metcalf (2) also scored.