Somebody had to hit a shot. From the field or the free-throw line, but somebody had to hit a shot.
Down the stretch of Saturday night’s dramatic, augmented, at times excruciating men’s basketball contest between FIU and Louisiana-Lafayette, both teams avoided accomplishing that simple task. And with 90 seconds left, FIU found two somebodies in Malik Smith and Tymell Murphy for a 75-70 win.
FIU’s second consecutive win, both at U.S. Century Bank Arena after six games on the road, pushes them to 6-7, 2-3 in the Sun Belt Conference. Murphy almost had a second consecutive 20-20 game. He ended with 28 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks. Louisiana-Lafayettte guard Bryant Mbamalu put in 23 points and Elfrid Payton passed out 12 assists.
Smith ignored the recent history of being 1 for 10 on the night, 0 for 5 from three-point range, and drained a three from the left side to put FIU ahead 67-64. Murphy blocked an Alan-Micha Thompson attempted three-point answer at the defensive end, then wriggled inside for a layup and a foul on Payton. Murphy hit the free throw to put FIU up 70-64 with 43.1 seconds left.
“Malik Smith, he’s the big guy, he’s got the big heart,” Murphy said. “He helped us out because we went a long stretch without scoring, and it was looking tough.”
Looking tough and tough to watch as FIU labored through a scoreless 4:15 after taking a 64-58 lead. Included in that stretch was a trip down the court in which freshman forward Jerome Frink, who had a game-high 12 rebounds, missed four free throws and committed a turnover.
But it’s not as if the Ragin’ Cajuns (6-11, 2-4) were filling the hole, either. In that same 4:15, they managed only six points to tie the game and missed their last three free throws. After Steven Wronkovski rebounded his own miss and FIU’s Junan Ferrales fouled him with 1:43 left, Wronkovski threw up a pair of bricks to leave the score tied.
Which brings up the night’s free-throw shooting. FIU went 21 of 38 (55.3 percent), while Louisiana was 12 of 22 (54.5 percent), numbers that often mean defeat. The same could be said for the 22 turnovers each team had. Besides Murphy, only Marco Porcher Jimenez, 10 points, reached double figures for FIU in scoring.
But FIU did hold Louisiana to 38.3 percent shooting from the field and outrebounded them 48-37.
“I really, really don’t worry about the offense,” FIU coach Richard Pitino said. “As long as they’re giving me great effort defensively and great effort on the glass, I don’t worry about if the ball goes in or not. Jerome Frink was 3 for 14 from the foul line. He’s probably suicidal right now. To me, the guy was one of the guys who won us the game. He had 12 rebounds. He had huge rebounds.”
Murphy pulled down 35 rebounds in the two games this week after zero against Middle Tennessee in FIU’s last December game.
“I had a bad rebounding game against Middle Tennessee,” Murphy said. “I didn’t rebound at all. I told myself coming into the new year, I was going to go for every rebound and I was going to come with a better focus for everything.”