FIU spent all week concerned with not letting North Texas sophomore forward Tony Mitchell beat it. Ten NBA scouts came to U.S. Century Bank Arena to see the 6-9 Mitchell, the preseason Sun Belt Player of the Year and a preseason All-American in some publications.
What they saw: FIU being the first team to shut out Mitchell in his college career. That and creating 13 first-half turnovers went a long way to a 70-64 win for FIU (9-8, 4-4 Sun Belt).
For FIU, junior forward Tymell Murphy put in 22 points on his usual efficient (11 of 16) shooting, and freshman Jerome Frink added 10 rebounds, three blocks and three steals. North Texas 6-5 senior Roger Franklin came up with the spectacular statistic line — 11 of 15 from the field, 7 of 8 from the line, 29 points, eight rebounds — expected of Mitchell.
A 19-2 run by FIU ended the first half.
“The No. 1 key for us was to handle their pressure,” North Texas coach Tony Benford said. “They did a great job turning the heat up towards the end of the first half.”
With the Mean Green reeling but having the ball and down only 32-24, FIU gave one more hard push. A Frink steal turned into a Murphy fastbreak layup and a 34-24 lead. As North Texas rushed up the court to do something with the remaining 8.7 seconds, Cameron Bell forced Miami native P.J. Hardwick to bounce the ball out of bounds off of his leg with 4.4 seconds left.
No miraculous halfcourt shot needed to be made when North Texas (7-12, 2-6) couldn’t find Deric Hill as he skittered around the Mean Green for a layup at the buzzer: 36-24 Panthers at halftime.
After FIU took a 50-32 second-half lead with 13:29 left, FIU spent its offensive possessions looking for the La-Z-Boys on offense. The lead got all the way down to 63-59 on a Franklin three-point play when free throws by Bell and Malik Smith gave FIU a buffer at 67-59 with 39 seconds left.
“I’m very happy with the win. We showed great effort. But we need to close the game out a lot smarter,” FIU coach Richard Pitino said. “It just shows when you give great effort, you’re always going to be in the game.”
And, Pitino noted, the Panthers paid attention to the scouting report on Mitchell, a lane-filler who made FIU change some shots at one end of the court as he barely got into the offense at the other end. Mitchell ended the night with four fouls, three shot attempts, one of them a desperation 30-footer near the end, and zero points.
“We’ve been talking about the guy all week,” Murphy said. “In practice, we’ve been focused on making sure the guy doesn’t get off because we know how good he is.”
Pitino said: “We wanted to know where he was at all times, man or zone. We wanted to shrink the court. We really wanted to zone out on everyone else and have two guys on him at all times.”
Benford said: “They did a great job. They played a 2-3 zone. I told our guys they weren’t going to start anybody over 6-6. The tallest player they’ve got is Frink, who’s a freshman. Roger Franklin was good in the zone. We attacked it like most teams do a zone. You exit, get in the high post, get in the short corner. We’re not a great three-point shooting team. We’re 342nd out of 347 teams in the country.
“Still, we wanted Tony to shoot the ball. He had some looks. He’s got to take more shots. He only had two rebounds. That’s not him. We’ve got to do a better job of putting him in spots to shoot the ball.”