FIUs most successful regular season in 13 years certainly bettered the final regular season of the most successful class in FAU history.
But when it came time for the big finish Saturday night, FIU literally dropped the ball and FAU figuratively dropped the mike.
A 77-60 FAU blowout in Boca Raton still leaves FIU at 16-13 and 11-9 in the Sun Belt Conference and likely the fourth seed in next weeks Sun Belt tournament. FAU ends at 14-17 and 9-11 in the last season in the Sun Belt for each before moving to Conference USA.
We really shouldve pulled away in the first half and were playing well, FIU coach Richard Pitino said. We kept just turning the ball over and doing some silly things when we had the opportunity to pull away.
We allowed them to come back in the game. They made some good shots. In the second half, they just outplayed us in every phase possible. Give all credit to FAU. They outrebounded us by 16. They shot 69 percent in the second half.
The night ended with FAU seniors Greg Gantt and Andre Mattison joining freshman Stefan Moody (28 points on 11-of-20 shooting) on the bench to gleeful howling and ovations from the crowd of 2,118.
I hate FIU, Greg Gantt said. To beat them at home in front of a packed crowd is something Ill always remember. I may not remember how many points I scored or anything else, but Ill remember we beat them.
Down at the FIU bench, Pitino squatted in front of starters Deric Hill, Malik Smith, Tymell Murphy, Tola Akomalafe, Jerome Frink and Cameron Bell.
Were going to go as far as those guys, Pitino said. Those guys have taken us to where we are now. Theres a lot of responsibility on those guys shoulders. And I didnt feel they lived up to that in the second half.
Appropriate that this game started at sundown. Because to paraphrase the Gordon Lightfoot hit song of that name, even when FIU felt like it was winning, it was losing again.
With 2:17 left in the first half, FIU had a 29-23 lead and the ball. But the lead had been as large as 10, at 20-10. FAU, the second best three-point shooting team in the Sun Belt, missed several open shots in going one of 11 from three-point range thus far. Those rebounds often as not fell to FAU, which ended the half with 10 offensive rebounds. And despite four steals and six FAU turnovers, blown shots, turnovers and unwise decisions in transition left the Panthers with only three points off FAU turnovers.
A 31-30 halftime lead rarely felt so precarious. Mattison went over Jerome Frink inside to give FAU the lead and launch a 10-2 run that ended with a Moody double-pump jumper. A Moody three-pointer put FAU up 45-35 and the Owls were rolling over FIU.