It did not take long for March Madness to live up to its moniker — thanks to FIU guard Dennis Mavin.
The senior took the ball just past the halfcourt line with the score tied and time running out, making overtime seem inevitable. But Mavin heaved a shot that went in off the backboard as time expired, setting off a celebration among the 10th-seeded Panthers, who advanced to the second round of the Conference USA tournament in Birmingham, Alabama, with a 57-54 victory over No. 7 seed UTSA.
“I just wanted the ball in my hands,” Mavin said in the postgame news conference. “I knew I had to get a good shot off … luckily it went in.”
After UTSA guard Keon Lewis made a three-pointer with 2.7 seconds remaining in regulation to tie the score at 54, it looked like the Panthers (16-16) and Roadrunners (14-16) would need extra time to determine a winner.
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But then Mavin got his hands on the ball — and madness ensued.
Mavin led the Panthers with 15 points and nine rebounds, fueling the program’s first Conference USA tournament victory. Ray Rodriguez added 14 points with four three-pointers to help buoy the FIU offense.
Now the Panthers will take on No. 2 seed UTEP (21-9) at noon Thursday in the conference quarterfinals.
In their only regular-season meeting this season, the Panthers lost 67-64 in a closely contested battle at FIU Arena on Feb. 7.
Thursday: No. 10 FIU men vs. No. 2 Texas-El Paso
When/where: 1 p.m., Bartow Arena, Birmingham, Alabama.
TV/radio: Streaming on AmericanSportsNet.com.
Records: FIU 16-16 (9-10 Conference USA); UTEP 21-9 (13-5).
Of note: FIU’s 67-64 loss to UTEP at FIU Arena, though congruent with each team’s record, might have been a total anomaly. FIU hit 78.9 percent from the line, over 15 percent above their average. Although Adrian Diaz took only seven shots, Daviyon Draper poured in 21 points. After a long FIU comeback from 14 down, the difference turned out to be two UTEP offensive rebounds for three second-chance points in the final minute.