When FIU survived No. 6 Louisville’s attempt at rout-by-slow-bloodletting, the defending national champions fell back upon blowout basics: a swift, blinding blast of defense, three-pointers and dunks.
And so did the Panthers see a close game with 2:59 left in the first half begin rocketing toward the eventual 85-56 loss to Louisville in front of 3,361 at U.S. Century Bank Arena on Saturday night.
Louisville senior guard Russ Smith led all scorers with 18 points on 6-of-12 shooting, including 4 of 7 from three-point range.
Senior forward Tymell Murphy led FIU in scoring with 16 points, and fifth-year senior Rakeem Buckles, playing against his former school, had 13 points and a game-high nine rebounds.
But Buckles also went 4 for 17 from the field and had four turnovers.
“I did a bad job of shot selection and forced a lot of shots,” Buckles said. “I don’t think it was them. I think offensively, we did some bad things.”
Louisville puts pressure on opponent’s guards.
FIU freshman point guard Jason Boswell ended the game with five turnovers.
Starting shooting guard Dennis Mavin finished with six.
FIU had 20 turnovers as a team to Louisville’s 10 and shot 18 of 54 from the field.
“I think their depth wore us down a bit,” FIU coach Anthony Evans said after Louisville dusted FIU 22-0 in bench points in the first half, 30-5 for the game.
After a basket-and-foul three-point play by Murphy got FIU within one at 10-9, Louisville ran off the next 13 points in almost painstaking manner.
Or, possibly, it just felt that way because the Cardinals did it without converting the defensive stops and turnovers into bushels of points. It was more a methodical possession-by-possession execution.
In fact, for the game, Louisville led FIU only 5-4 in fast-break points.
But, down 27-13, FIU went on its own steady push.
“We just kept our composure,” Murphy said. “We got into the game, we slowed them down and took our time in our offense.”
A Buckles three-pointer got the deficit to single digits, 28-20. A few possessions later, Dennis Mavin’s three-pointer cut the lead to 28-23. A Chane Behanan power dunk was answered by Murphy spinning around Tim Henderson to kiss a shot off the glass: 30-25 with 2:59 left in the first half.
Going into halftime having gotten off the floor to sock it to Louisville somewhat would’ve been a boost to FIU’s already buoyant spirits. The defending champs never let the Panthers get there.
Montrezl Harrell made one of two free throws. Williams missed a jumper. Mavin missed two free throws.
Smith drained a three-pointer. Mavin missed a three-pointer, then Buckles traveled. Henderson dropped in a three-pointer.
Boswell missed a jumper, and Louisville’s Chris Jones grabbed the rebound with just enough time to race upcourt and feed Harrell for an alley-oop dunk at the horn.
Suddenly, the 14-point lead was restored and, like a restored 1966 High Country Mustang, worth more this time around.
FIU never threatened after that, falling behind 48-29 just 4:34 into the second half.
“I thought we were taking quick shots, ill-advised shots,” Evans said.
“Which leads to fast breaks for them because they’re so athletic and they’re quick. They got the dunk at the end, a couple of quick layups, some fouls, got to the free-throw line. I thought our shot selection hurt us a bit.”