Got some witnesses out at FIU, 70-68 losers to Middle Tennessee State at U.S. Century Bank Arena Saturday afternoon.
Middle Tennessee’s 6-7 senior Neiko Hunter shredded FIU for 25 points and nine rebounds, both career highs. Senior Shawn Jones, a Hialeah High graduate who has spent four years making FIU regret not landing him, crossed the 1,000 career-point mark with 23 points and tied Hunter with a game-high nine rebounds. Obviously, the length of Jones, Hunter, Reggie Upshaw and Jacquez Rozier gave FIU problems when it came to rebounding, especially in the first half.
The matchup didn’t get any better for FIU in the last three minutes, which the Panthers spent without 6-7 fifth-year senior forward Rakeem Buckles. Buckles fouled out with scoring 12 points, all in the second half, and a team-high six rebounds.
FIU countered with some nice entry passes from point guard Cody Mann that set up sophomore Jerome Frink (season high 18 points), senior forward Tymell Murphy, and shots from further out by redshirt junior Dennis Mavin.
“We came out more aggressive than last game,” Frink said. “And we knew their center would look to block shots, so my teammates would drop it off and I’d just finish.”
For it all, the two-point difference came down to the only basic method of scoring in sports that doesn’t change in difficulty from elementary school to the highest levels of play. It’s an unguarded shot from 15 feet on a 10-foot high basket.
The game entered the last 90 seconds tied at 68 after two Frink free throws. That put FIU (12-12, 4-5 in Conference USA) at 11 of 18 from the line, 61.1 percent. At that same point, Middle (17-7, 7-2) was 12 of 15 from the line, 80.0 percent.
FIU came into the game shooting 65.8 percent, No. 287th nationally. Had FIU hit just one more free throw, or what tied-for-No. 264 LSU and Louisiana Tech shoot (66.7 percent), the Panthers would’ve been ahead. With two more free throws, 72.2 percent or exactly what No. 87 nationally Mount St. Mary’s shoots, the Panthers would’ve been ahead by two.
So, they would’ve been tied after lack of help defense allowed Middle’s Jaqawn Raymond to sidle down the lane for a layup with 31.2 seconds left. Instead, FIU trailed 70-68. Mann’s baseline three-pointer clanked away. Hunter rebounded with 4.4 seconds left.
Fouling Hunter then and on the ensuing inbounds pass gave him the chance to close the game for Middle. He missed, but by the time Frink grabbed the rebound after some beach ball batting, only five-tenths of a second remained.
“All it is is repetition and concentration,” FIU coach Anthony Evans said. “We work on free throws every single day. Guys play a lot of minutes. Sometimes, they’re tired. But it’s just something we’ll continue to work on.”
The most free throw misfires came from Murphy (one of five) and Mavin (three of five). Murphy played the most minutes, 40. Mavin, a .543 free throw shooter anyway, played 37. But Frink played 39 and went four of four.