Just because FIU led wire-to-wire in its 66-57 win against FAU on Saturday night doesn’t mean the Panthers cruised unchallenged. But while FAU senior Pablo Bertone kept trying to raise the Owls from the dead, FIU senior Tymell Murphy kept slapping them back into the grave.
Murphy didn’t do it alone. Redshirt junior guard Dennis Mavin, who transferred from FAU last year, put up 14 points and eight rebounds. Sophomore forward Jerome Frink — 13 points, nine rebounds, four steals — made several important plays in the last seven minutes and fed Mavin for the layup-and-one that elevated FIU to a 63-55 lead with 40 seconds left.
“I thought it was his best game in a long time,” FIU coach Anthony Evans said of Frink. “He rebounds sometimes and sometimes he scores. Tonight, he put it all together. As long as he continues to do that, we’ll be successful.”
FIU held their counterparts from Boca Raton to 21 of 55 (38.2 percent) shooting from the field and were helped immensely by FAU’s abysmal seven of 15 (46.7 percent) shooting from the line.
Murphy ended the night with 14 points, 14 rebounds and three steals (and eight turnovers, over which he sighed, “I’ve got to get better…”). But it was his two blocks that ignited the final momentum swing.
FIU (11-9, 3-2 in Conference USA) smothered Bertone into a scoreless the first half and led 34-24 at halftime. But once he got going in the second half, starting with a three-pointer 4:41 into the half, he pulled FAU (7-13, 2-3) back into the game. He even dropped in a four-point play, a three-pointer while fouled by Dominque Williams, to chop FIU’s lead to 46-41 with 12:20 left.
That started a 10-3 run that Bertone, who finished with a game-high 19 points, closed with another three. He pickpocketed Mavin and raced in for the tying layup … only to see Murphy zoom in from behind to swat the ball almost into the lobby. That broke open an emotional gusher from a suddenly howling, dancing crowd of (officially) 2,044 at U.S. Century Bank Arena.
Bertone cooled for one shot at least, missing a three-pointer, but off a Mavin miss and Justin Raffington rebound, FAU’s Marquan Botley scooted down court to try a tying layup in transition … and Murphy swooped in to spank that shot to the delight of the arena.
“I like to get blocks like that because the energy and the momentum really shifts,” Murphy said. “The crowd gets involved and we kind of pick it up a little bit. I love when my teammates make them pump fake because I know I’m going to go up and get it.”
Murphy’s block on Bertone resembled a rejection that ignited FIU in the second half of a December win against Florida Gulf Coast. These two did the same.
Mavin drew a foul and made one of two free throws. Murphy hit two free throws. After trading unsuccessful possessions, FIU took a 54-57 lead on Muphy’s rebound and put back of a missed three-pointer.
FAU never got closer than five after that.