Approximately 12 feet, 4 inches combined of help for Jerica Coley’s 33 points made all the difference for FIU Thursday night at U.S. Century Bank Arena in a 65-55 win over FAU.
Instead of Coley, the nation’s leading scorer, shouldering the vast majority of the scoring and rebounding load as she has recently, everybody chipped in during the decisive second half run that put FIU up by 17.
“That was great,” Coley said. “People came in and made shots. Diamond did excellent. We played pretty well. I was proud of us.”
Throughout the night, 6-3 senior Diamond Ashmore was the biggest contributor besides Coley, adding 16 points and eight rebounds.
“There was ice water running through Diamond’s veins,” FIU coach Cindy Russo said. “That’s a senior going out and she wants something to happen here.”
Ashmore played 30 minutes in her first game back from a dislocated kneecap. Ashmore had been practicing with the team, but 6-1 senior forward Finda Mansare hadn’t even been doing that before getting cleared to come back from a concussion Wednesday morning. In 16 minutes Mansare dished out four assists and, along with Ashmore, gave FIU (14-9, 8-6 Sun Belt) a defensive presence inside that’s been missing.
FAU (10-12, 7-7) shot 25.7 percent in the second half, 31.8 percent for the game. And when the Owls missed, FIU’s Marita Davydova rebounded — all her game-high 10 rebounds came on the defensive end.
“Got our troops back,” Russo said. “We just played hard, made our mistakes, settled down. We did a good job on the boards and played some nice defense. That’s a really nice team.” She turned to Coley and said, “And it’s always good to have her.”
On a night when gold T-shirts with Coley’s number were handed out to the first 250 fans, she rolled up two-thirds of FIU’s first-half points: 24 of 36. The similarity to several other games — including Saturday’s loss to Louisiana-Monroe when she scored 22 of FIU’s 27 first half points — ended there.
Instead of putting another brick in the wall every other time down the court by forcing shots because her teammates couldn’t hit their own open shots, Coley could relinquish some offensive responsibility. She took only six shots in the second half, hitting four.
By the time Coley scored in the second half, FIU edged its six-point halftime lead to seven, 44-37. And after a three-pointer by FAU’s Breanna Turner (15 points) closed the gap to 48-42, the Panthers pulled away.
Coley made a layup, drew a foul on Turner and hit the free throw: 51-42. Zsofia Labady hit a jumper. The teams traded turnovers before Mansare hit from 15 feet and, after trading missed three-pointers, nailed another jumper from 13 feet. Then, Mansare pulled down a defensive rebound, threw an outlet to Carmen Miloglav, who fed Coley for a layup and 59-42 lead with 8:27 left.
After that, the most worrisome moment for FIU came when Coley dropped to the floor after a desperation heave at the basket to beat the shot block. She limped off favoring her left knee, but was walking normally after the game.