FIU imported drummers to hang from makeshift rafters for Thursday’s men’s basketball home opener at U.S. Century Bank Arena. The drummers hung above a quartet of cabanas in which fans who paid for the privilege ate and drank.
Though what sat outside the lines at one end of the beach-themed court affected play between the lines, FIU’s superior height and athleticism allowed it to pull away from United States College Athletic Association Division II Florida College for an 85-39 rout.
A postgame “student beach party” promotion pulled in more students aside from the usual student basketball game crowd comprised of other FIU athletes and players’ pals.
“It was great. It was exciting to be part of that today,” said FIU fifth-year senior forward Rakeem Buckles, who had a game-high 16 points on 8-of-10 shooting. “The idea is to get people to come out and make the game fun. The environment was great. I hope every game is like that.”
But Buckles admitted, “We kind of got out of our game because of it. Everybody was trying to really make it a show instead of actually playing.”
Once FIU raced to a 10-0 lead, the Panthers let Florida College back into the game. They began shooting from distance instead of continuing to work the ball down low where the 6-7 Buckles and 6-6 sophomore Jerome Frink, who finished with 13 points, held a size advantage on the Falcons.
With 10:30 left in the first half, FIU’s lead was down to 16-12 after a Dustin Dunham layup.
“I knew the first half was going to be kind of slow,” FIU coach Anthony Evans said. “A lot of times, when you see a team that you think you’re better than, you take selfish shots. And we did that. We fell into that trap.”
FIU switched to a zone defense and tore off on a 13-4 run to lead 31-18 with 4:37 left. A 13-3 run early in the second half brought on garbage time.
“We’re better on man-to-man,” Frink said. “But all the festivities today got us out of our zone. It was too much for us. We had to go zone to settle down.”
Statistical oddity of the night: FIU was 0 for 4 from the free-throw line. Senior forward Tymell Murphy had 13 rebounds and 10 points for FIU (3-2). Senior guard Alvin Satram led Florida College (4-4) with 11 points.
Nova Southeastern: The Sharks face their toughest test of the season when they host the third-ranked West Liberty Hilltoppers at 6 p.m. Friday.