On FIU’s men’s basketball Senior Day, the Panthers greeted The Green Wave from Tulane with emotional waves that brought ever greater clarity and direction to FIU’s game. An early 10-point lead Sunday turned into a 10-point halftime lead that morphed into a 73-47 rout.
Fifth-year senior forward Rakeem Buckles threw in 20 points on 6 of 11 shooting, including 4 of 7 from three-point range, and grabbed 13 rebounds, both game-highs. FIU’s leading scorer, senior forward Tymell Murphy didn’t score until 15:30 into the game, but finished with his usual efficient shooting, 8 of 13 (.615), 19 points, six rebounds and two blocked shots.
One game remains, at FAU on Thursday. But watching the faces of the seniors, especially the expressive Murphy and Miami native Buckles during the pregame ceremonies, said Sunday counted as the climax.
“My parents came out and watch me play one of my last games. I was definitely excited,” Buckles said. “And ready to get out there, play hard as I can so we could get a win. We haven’t won in a couple of games [four-game losing streak] so it was more about that.”
What Murphy’s mother, Nicole Murphy, saw after she escorted her son out during the pregame ceremony numbered as only the second game she’s seen him play. He explained she was usually busy making sure his brother and two sisters were OK while he was playing.
“She never saw me play during my biddy years, my high school years, nothing,” Murphy said. “I try not to be too emotional about it. I want her to see her son doing well. I just tried to play my hardest. Play for her, play for my teammates, my coaches, just play for the people in my heart.”
The tone got established early. Tulane won the opening tip. FIU won the opening possession by forcing a shot clock violation. Then, FIU won its opening offensive possession when Buckles hit a three-pointer, starting a run to a 10-0 lead.
“I think it started from last game [a 12-point loss to Southern Mississippi],” Buckles said. “We kind of got up in the guys on the road in the second half. And we said we were going to try to start this game like that.”
After halftime, Tulane got the FIU lead down to 42-37 with just under 15 minutes left. Starting with a Buckles’ three-pointer, FIU outscored Tulane 31-10 the rest of the game.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick came in with a few friends and fellow NFL players, was escorted to one of the courtside cabanas and watched most of the second half. They left just after FIU president Mark Rosenberg joined the group of beachwear-attired students calling themselves “Rosenberg’s Rowdies” and even donned a beach shirt.
“They just decided to come out and play with more energy,” FIU coach Anthony Evans said. “We always talk about sharing the basketball. They did that. We had 16 assists. Once they started getting the alley oops and they started knocking down shots, it just kept flowing.”
One second-half sequence summed up the game. Off a rebound, Buckles threw a perfect outlet that caught redshirt junior Dennis Mavin in stride. Mavin lobbed up an alley-oop pass that Murphy dunked. Buckles slapped Louis Dabney’s layup attempt into the stands. Then, off a fast break, with Buckles on his left calling for the ball, Cody Mann dished right to sophomore Jerome Frink for a dunk.
Buckles congratulated Mann and Frink, then almost skipped back up court with a smile that could touch Liberty City and Opa-locka.