Florida Gulf Coast, once “Dunk City,” looked straight out of Layupville Saturday afternoon at FIU. Once last year’s Sweet Sixteen team got its offense going in the second half, the Panthers looked on the verge of extinction.
Then, in the final 7:21, FIU went from bewildered to precognitive on defense, stagnant to aggressive on offense and gave a raucous U.S. Century Bank Arena crowd a 72-61 comeback victory.
Senior forward Tymell Murphy’s game-high 23 points for FIU (8-4) included 10 of 10 free throw shooting. Senior guard Dennis Mavin added 19. Less important than fifth-year senior Rakeem Buckles’ 11 points were his 13 rebounds, 10 of which were on the defensive end, seven of which came in the second half.
Brett Comer and Chase Fieler each had 14 points for Gulf Coast (4-4). Jamail Jones came down with 10 rebounds.
In a game of dunks and and-one buckets off reckless drives, the most mundane of basketball skills proved as important as it often does. FIU, a 67.6 percent free throw shooting team coming into the game, shot 22 of 25 (88 percent) from the line. Gulf Coast went five of 12 (41.7 percent).
After three-pointers on consecutive possessions by freshman Jason Boswell and junior Marco Porcher-Jimenez gave FIU a 44-38 lead with 13:52 left, the Panthers started standing around. Their only field goals for the next 10 minutes came off Dennis Mavin and Jerome Frink cleaning up the garbage after Rakeem Buckles got stripped inside.
But the Panthers found offense after rediscovering defense. Gulf Coast guard Brett Comer circumnavigated FIU’s defense for layups and short jumpers, scoring six consecutive points in an 11-0 Gulf Coast run that swung the game from 46-40, FIU to 51-46, Gulf Coast. Comer made one of two free throws to put Gulf Coast up 56-48 with 7:21 left.
“It was a better understanding of what our opponent was trying to do to us,” FIU coach Anthony Evans said. “They were trying to drive the ball to the basket and we weren’t coming over and helping much. We were trying to clog lanes toward the end rather than playing shooters. Once we did that, they had trouble getting into the lane. Then, when they tried to kick out, we were getting deflections.”
FIU then took its turn. After limiting Gulf Coast to one, challenged shot on each of the next two possessions, the Panthers allowed Gulf Coast a two-shot possession – only because Murphy swatted Comer’s layup attempt into the student section at cannonball speed.
The joint exploded. From there, reciprocity ruled – the Panthers fed off the crowd, which fed off the Panthers, which fed off the crowd...etc.
Murphy and Buckles both nodded afterwards when the atmosphere was mentioned. Murphy thought the crowd might’ve affected Gulf Coast’s free throw shooting.
Gulf Coast’s Jamail Jones could’ve calmed things down with a wide open dunk. He blew it and Dennis Mavin went coast to coast with the rebound: 56-54. Murphy stole a perimeter pass from Filip Cvjecticanin and went the distance for a scoop hoop while drawing a foul on Cvjecticanin. Murphy’s free throw put FIU ahead 57-56.
Comer and Mavin exchanged driving layups. Murphy and Buckles trapped Jones on the baseline and Murphy solved Jones problem by relieving him of the ball. Fouled in transition, Murphy hit both free throws. Following another Cvjecticanin miss (he really had a bad day) from three-point range, Murphy rumbled through for another basket-and-foul three-point play.
The 64-58 lead survived a Bernard Thompson trip to the line – two misses. So, when Jerome Frink put back a Boswell missed layup, FIU was in the free throw clubhouse, up 66-58 with 1:22 remaining.