Celebrating Black Voices

Tyrese Rice Is More Than Just His Historic Performance

Down 10 points to then-No. 3 North Carolina with less than 30 seconds to play, former Boston College men’s basketball guard Tyrese Rice couldn’t understand why fans at Conte Forum were giving him a standing ovation. BC—who was ahead by 14 points at halftime—was moments away from losing decisively to a championship contender in what had been a rather uneventful 2007–08 season prior to this matchup. 

“I’m not even really understanding exactly why everybody is literally standing up and clapping or whatever, because I was just so in the moment,” Rice, BC ’09, said. 

The 6-foot-1 junior guard, however, had just turned in a performance nearly unparalleled in BC history, leaving the audience in Conte Forum—including Hall of Fame North Carolina coach Roy Williams—stunned. 

Rice finished the game with 46 points, tied for the second-highest single-game total by an individual player in BC history, and the highest total since 1964. 

“It was a little bit of an out-of-body experience for me, to be honest with you,” Rice said. 

But even as Rice hit shot after shot—23 straight, to be exact—he didn’t blink twice. For Rice, March 1, 2008 was just another Saturday. 

Rice has reacted to both the highs and lows in his life with a certain steadiness—whether that be notching a historic performance or learning that his best friend’s sister was suddenly dying from cancer. 

Or finding out that his high school coach Randy Cave died before Rice’s first nationally televised college game. 

Or facing the fact that two of his friends were murdered a week later. 

Forty-six points against National Player of the Year Tyler Hansbrough was no sweat for Rice.   

“I wasn’t one to complain about the situation I was in,” Rice said. 

A Black athlete at a predominantly white institution, Rice said racial issues weren’t at the forefront of his experience at BC.  

“We were aware of what was going on at a lot of these schools, but we were so trained in our minds to ignore it and just kind of, you know, figure your way out, you know, all the way through it,” Rice said. 

While Rice enjoyed his success on the court, he said he had to learn how to adapt as a Black student off the court.

“We didn’t have to change who we were, but we had to be cognizant of who we were, you know, on campus and who we showed ourselves to be while we were on campus,” Rice said.

Rice acknowledges that despite not thinking about the social issues that Black athletes faced during his playing days, the circumstances could have been different. 

“Now the resources are different,” Rice said. “So I think, you know, it would have helped us live. And it would have helped us as athletes as well.”

During his playing days at BC, basketball was always at the forefront for Rice. He said it was just in his nature. 

“You know what you’re there for,” Rice said.

Through four years on the Heights, Rice averaged 15.9 points per game and totaled 2,099 points, leading BC to the NCAA Tournament three times—in 2006, 2007, and 2009. 

Even with BC’s 13–13 record heading into the Eagles’ 2008 contest against North Carolina, the matchup was highly anticipated—North Carolina was a powerhouse, but Rice said his sole focus was winning the game.

“It was sold out before the game even got ready to happen,” Rice said. “I mean, we were coming out for warmups and half the arena was full two and a half hours before the game.”

Though it’s possible that some BC fans had piled into Conte Forum to see a Tar Heels squad that would eventually reach the Final Four, the crowd very quickly began watching history unfold, courtesy of a BC player. 

“That place was rocking,” Josh Southern, Rice’s teammate and BC ’13, said. “It was jumping. When he started hitting all them threes and we were up—I mean, it was crazy in there.” 

Before the game was even over, spectators believed Rice vaulted himself alongside other BC greats.

“It was the kind of game that had people whispering at halftime about [Troy] Bell’s legendary career-high 42-point game against Iowa State in 2003,” Jessica Isner wrote in an article in The Heights in 2008. 

Between the first half’s 18:20 mark and 10:59 mark, Rice was the Eagles’ lone scorer—a stretch that included four consecutive 3-pointers

“It was like throwing a rock in the ocean,” Southern said. 

According to teammates and fans, no one could believe what they were watching.  

“Anything he threw in didn’t even touch the rim,” Mary Mangraviti, a fan at the game and BC ’86, said. “It was one of the more memorable athletic performances I have ever seen—and I’ve been going to events since I was in high school with Doug Flutie.” 

Rice said he couldn’t believe it himself.

“I know I’ve ran off a good amount of points before in a stretch,” Rice said. “But never 22 straight.”

Rice’s torrid run put BC ahead 54–40 at the half, and he had registered 34 points in the first half alone. He was 20 minutes away from a career-defining upset. 

“I mean, I felt like I could win this game probably by myself,” Rice said. 

But Rice and the Eagles never did, and former BC head coach Al Skinner opted for a different approach. 

“He was a little more adamant about us continuing the offense and trying to get people into the game,” Rice said. “And when they ramped up their defensive pressure, it got to us.”

It didn’t take long for BC’s game-high 18-point lead to evaporate with Rice less involved. North Carolina exploded for a 22–3 run to snatch the lead away from the Eagles and hand BC a 90–80 loss.

“It was tough to have to sit back, and kind of watch in a sense, instead of being able to go out there and do everything that I thought I could have done in that moment,” Rice said. 

Still frustrated, Rice said he didn’t let the loss—or his historic performance—change his mentality. Rice—in that moment and throughout the rest of his career—remained authentic to who he was. 

“I was the guy that used to play intramural football games,” Rice said. “I would go to the Plex and play randomly and just engage with the students regularly.”

Rice said he didn’t seek any extra attention at BC. He roomed with non-athletes and enjoyed himself, but never to the detriment of the team. 

“He did a great job of making sure guys were motivated and were still having a blast out there,” John Oates, Rice’s teammate from 2005–08, said.

Staying grounded was something Rice had been taught growing up, and he took pride in it.

“It’s kind of like the humble nature that I was, you know, taught as a young kid,” Rice said.

Rice grew up in Lexington, N.C., but played high school basketball in Chesterfield, Va., at Lloyd C Bird High School. He came from a blue collar family, and all the women in his family played basketball. His grandma was the best, according to Rice. 

According to Rice, hard work is in his blood. He desires to maximize every opportunity and isn’t one to sit around and complain about his situation. 

“It was just about playing the cards that you was dealt to the best of your ability,” Rice said. “And that was able to take me, you know, through high school, being the all-time leading scorer in Virginia, all-time leader in threes, all-time leader points in the season.”

But Rice struggled to receive Division I offers. BC was interested in Rice, but throughout his first three years of high school, his GPA wasn’t strong enough. 

But Cave did not let Rice fail in school. He set up Rice’s senior year schedule, and Rice began taking six classes—just enough to strengthen his GPA to be academically qualified to go to BC. 

“You actually can’t even do that anymore,” Rice said. “He was the one who got me into BC.”

Rice said Cave was excited to watch him play his first nationally televised game on Nov. 29, 2006 against Michigan State, but Cave—who was battling cancer—never got to watch the game.

“He died that morning,” Rice said. “Everything he did for me all throughout high school—he never got to see me play one college game.”

Just a week after Cave died, two of Rice’s close friends were murdered.

On top of everything else, Rice’s first child was born next month. 

“This was like ‘boom, boom, boom, boom,’ all my freshman year,” Rice said. “Just an 18-year-old just trying to figure it out.”

But Rice stayed the course—just like he had growing up. No tragic loss—or 46-point game—ever made Rice someone who he wasn’t. 

“I think, you know, those situations, they stuck with me as a young man, and I had to grow up so fast that I knew that I had to do something with ball because that was all that I knew,” Rice said. 

Rice said that mindset carried him through his college years, as a teammate and a leader.

“He was simultaneously very supportive but also made sure to hold us accountable,” Oates said. “He expected everybody to be at his level of effort.”

Rice said he took every opportunity head on and never backed down—not even against then-No. 1 North Carolina in 2009. BC took down the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill, shocking the college basketball world. 

“We were never afraid of anybody that we played,” Rice said. “We understood that we always had a chance—it didn’t matter.”

Now, as a 35-year-old father residing in Houston, Texas, Rice said he remembers his experiences as a young man with pride. His 46-point game is permanently etched in BC history—even 15 years later.

“I’ve never talked about this game before,” Rice said.

Correction (2/25/23, 3:45 p.m.): This article previously stated that Tyrese Rice is 6-foot-6 on Friday, Feb. 24. It was corrected to state that Tyrese Rice is 6-foot-1.

February 23, 2023