After a first half with enough whistles for Macy’s parade and a second half of basket trading, Saturday’s East Carolina-FIU game at U.S. Century Bank Arena came down to that standby of effort: rebounding.
FIU got enough of it for a 68-64 win that pushes the Panthers to 10-9 and evens their Conference USA record at 2-2.
Panthers senior forwards Tymell Murphy and Rakeem Buckles each scored a game-high-tying 18 points. Whenever FIU needed to move the scoreboard in the second half, it seemed Murphy or Buckles finished the play or had the assist, steal or rebound that led to the basket. But it was FIU’s rebounding, led by Buckles’ game-high 11, that kept sucking time and possessions from East Carolina (11-7, 0-3) late in the game.
“At the beginning of the game, I had the disposition to get back on the glass because I haven’t been rebounding well,” Buckles said. “I haven’t been playing well. From the tip, I said one thing I was going to do is rebound, whether the ball goes in or not on the offensive end.”
With FIU up 64-62, Buckles came down with a rebound of a missed free throw by East Carolina’s Paris Campbell to prevent the Pirates from tying the score on that trip down the floor. After a trade of stops, FIU sophomore forward Jerome Frink got a layup off a sizzling entry pass from Murphy on the perimeter.
Another East Carolina possession went one-and-done when 6-0 redshirt sophomore Cody Mann out-positioned, out-leaped and out-hustled East Carolina 6-9 center Michael Zangari for the rebound. Again, FIU held the Pirates to a single shot, Antonio Robinson’s layup that Frink blocked and Buckles rebounded. Zangari got his fourth foul, the team’s fifth of the half, on the play.
Robinson used up the Pirates’ fouls to give — and his own personal fouls — on FIU’s possession, sending Murphy to the line with 34 seconds left. Frink got called for the foul on Murphy’s missed free throw. Two Zangari free throws cut the lead to 66-64. Zangari seemed to have the half-court heave inbounds intercepted, but Buckles saved the play by pilfering the ball as Zangari came down.
That forced the Pirates to foul Dennis Mavin. A rerun of Murphy at the line occurred — miss, Frink foul, Zangari on the line — but when Zangari missed the front end of his one-and-one, Buckles got the rebound. Buckles clanked his one-and-one opener, giving the Pirates a shot at tying or taking the lead.
The Pirates panicked offensively and Akeem Richmond’s rushed, contested three-pointer caromed away to Buckles. Zangari committed his fifth foul and Buckles sank two free throws with 8.1 seconds left for the final margin.
Coming off setting a school record for paucity of points Thursday against Old Dominion, FIU certainly looked livelier on the offensive end Saturday.
“We were doing a lot of no-dribble motion drills on offense [in practice], making the sure the ball doesn’t stick in anybody’s hands too long,” Murphy said. “Pass it, get it out, pick for somebody else, screen. Thursday, everybody saw it was sticking too long. We wanted the offense to be more fluid — catch and go, catch and go. You see an opening, then you go.”