You can’t coach big. And you can’t defend free throws.
Because of the first sentence, FIU senior center Adrian Diaz had Florida Atlantic at his mercy once the Panthers started feeding him in the second half, and Diaz showed the Owls no mercy. He scored FIU’s first 11 second-half points, 20 of the first 22 (and assisted on the remaining layup) and 23 overall in the Panthers’ 76-59 victory over FAU in front of about 300 at FIU Arena.
Diaz said the last time he took over a game offensively in such a manner was “probably in high school [Hialeah Miami Lakes]. It was my last game my senior year. We were at home, it was Senior Night. I scored 18 of the first 23 points, I believe. We were playing Krop.”
Because of the second sentence, FIU had nothing to do with another facet that kept the Owls from being a bigger problem. FAU ended the game an abysmal 9 of 18 at the free-throw line. A 15-point FIU lead had been worked down to 55-49 with 8:05 left when FAU’s Nick Rutherford clanked the front end of a one and one. That put the Owls at 6 of 14 from the line. Two of the eight misses were front ends of a one and one.
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That’s a game-changing amount of potential points wasted by a team whose leading scorer and shot blocker, 6-9 sophomore C.J. Turman, was dismissed from the team in December. The Panthers restored the rout in the last seven minutes off defense, especially as the Owls grew desperate; 11 points by junior guard Donte McGill, half his game total of 22; and some layup-drill hoops after shattering an ineffective FAU press.
“I think those early losses helped us. Obviously, we had to improve as a team, mature,” FIU coach Anthony Evans said. “When teams make a run at us now, it’s not the deer-in-the-headlights look that there was in the beginning. There’s more confidence we’re going to get a stop and execute on the offensive end.”
After the Conference USA opener for each, FIU is 7-7 and 1-0. FAU is 2-12, 0-1.
Junior Daviyon Draper matched his 15 points with 15 rebounds, 12 defensive, to tie Diaz as the game’s top rebounder. Draper and Diaz hoisted FIU to a 46-25 rebound advantage, which turned into an 18-2 advantage in second-chance points. Diaz also blocked three shots and had two steals.
But this contest resembled a clichéd, close rivalry game — 30-26 at halftime — until Diaz took over the game in the second half.
On three consecutive possessions, Diaz got fouled inside. He sank 3 of 4 free throws, then got an old fashioned hoop-and-harm three-point play. The last two fouls were committed by FAU redshirt freshman Ronald Delph. With the 7-0 Delph having a seat after his third foul and no Turman, 6-9 junior Matthew Reed had to deal with the 6-11 Diaz.
Or get overwhelmed by him. Diaz quickly scored while drawing Reed’s third foul, and FIU led 38-28. A fourth foul on Reed, another Diaz free throw, made it 39-28. After a break of a media timeout plus 17 seconds of game clock, Diaz scored on a layup, then fed McGill with a gorgeous pass for a layup: 43-28.
Evans said changing the game plan to feed Diaz didn’t come from the coaches.
“I think the team did it,” he said. “In the beginning, we were trying to spread it around. Then when they saw they were having problems guarding Adrian, I think among themselves, they started running plays to throw it into him because they were going to get shots if he was going to get shots.”