Tymell Murphy punctuated FIU’s victory in a way only he could — a block.
The senior forward got his hand on a last-ditch effort by Denzell Watts as the host Panthers beat UAB 78-73 on Thursday night. Murphy moved into a tie for fourth place in school history in blocks with that final swat.
Murphy was in foul trouble for most of the game, but he made a big difference in the second half, scoring 10 of his 16 points in the final six minutes of the game to help FIU climb back to .500 in Conference USA.
“We knew if we could stay within range heading into halftime we’d be OK because we’d have [Murphy] for the second half,” coach Anthony Evans said. “He attacked, he got to the free-throw line, he made some big baskets.
“He’s a senior, and he did a great job for us.”
The contest’s momentum swung like a pendulum with neither team able to harness it for long stretches. The lead changed hands 13 times, and the score was tied on seven other occasions. Ultimately, the Panthers had one last big run in them, going on a 9-2 spurt in a span of 97 seconds late in the game to take the lead for good.
The Panthers were fortunate to be down only by five at halftime because they had five turnovers before the first media timeout and the Blazers did not capitalize. Neither team was able to do much in the opening minutes, and the game remained scoreless more than three minutes into it.
However, the start of the second half was much quicker than the first. FIU was able to convert defense into offense for four baskets within the first 91 seconds to erase the deficit.
Evans said he always stresses the team has to make defense its strength, and that was the difference in the beginning moments of the half. FIU got a block, a steal and a defensive rebound in that stretch to create the offense at the other end.
Senior Rakeem Buckles was FIU’s leader for most of the night with Murphy on the bench.
The forward secured his 10th double-double of the season with a 21-point, 11-rebound performance before fouling out. It was his second consecutive 20-point game after a six-game stretch in which he averaged only 10 points per game.
“I had a good week of practice, so I could apply that stuff into the game,” Buckles said. “Coach [was] getting on me about better shot selection and getting to my spots, and we were working on that in practice, and it carried over into the game.”
UAB entered the game as the nation’s best rebounding team, averaging more than 46 boards per contest. However, the Panthers were able to limit the Blazers on the glass and finished the game tied at 35 rebounds apiece.