Raymond Taylor, all 5-6 of him, hit a floater over big Aaron Clayborn and Aaric Murray to clinch FIU’s 70-68 victory against Texas Southern Saturday at U.S. Century Bank Arena.
The senior guard showed no fear, driving into the 6-7 inch and 6-10 inch Murray, giving the Panthers a 68-63 lead with 50 seconds remaining in the closely contested game.
“I thought it was a hard-fought game,” FIU coach Anthony Evans said after his team’s fourth consecutive victory. “Texas Southern is a very good basketball team. I give our guys a lot of credit fighting through the deficit early. This is a relatively new basketball team, and we haven’t played very much together.”
The Panthers (4-2) trailed by as many as 10 points in the first half as Clayborn and Murray manhandled their way into the paint for a combined 17 points and 12 rebounds on 63 percent shooting for the Tigers (2-2).
“In the beginning we were trying to front Murray,” Evans said. “He’s a very good player, so we wanted to try to stay behind him and have him take shots over us. We just wanted to be solid, box out and get the rebounds. Texas Southern ran on us and got easy transition baskets in the beginning. Once we got that under control, we were able to get stops and points.”
But the Panthers overcame the height and fought back behind 14 first-half points from Tymell Murphy to tie the score 34-34 at halftime.
“It’s just confidence and being comfortable,” said Murphy, who finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds. “My confidence [was] built a lot today.”
Jerome Frink confidently hit two three-point field goals in the first half as part of the 8-1 run, leading to the tie at the break. Frink’s three-pointer 30 seconds into the second half gave FIU a 37-34 lead.
“We had to make sure to clamp down on defense,” Murphy said. “[Murray] was a heavy load, but we just wanted to focus on defense.”
The Panthers pushed their lead to seven points three times in the second half, despite having leading scorer Rakeem Buckles in foul trouble for the entire game. Buckles, who averaged 19 points per game prior to Saturday, fouled out with five minutes remaining.
Dennis Mavin had 11 points and seven rebounds in the win while Taylor and Buckles each netted eight points. Murray finished with 22 points and 11 rebounds in the loss. Jose Rodriguez and Clayborn had 14 points and 10 points, respectively, for the Tigers.
“These early season wins are extremely important,” Evans said. “This is a new team that hasn’t played a lot together, and we are trying to get some chemistry.”