The wall in the hall outside the visitors’ locker room at FAU Arena seemed to be the only thing holding up exhausted FIU guard Dennis Mavin and center Adrian Diaz late Sunday afternoon.
They earned that exhaustion while holding up FIU through the second half of the Panthers’ muscular 62-60 victory against FAU in the Conference USA opener for both teams.
Well, let’s clarify that. Diaz and Mavin carried the Panthers offensively, scoring the first 31 of FIU’s 34 second-half points. And Diaz’s layins and soft turnaround jumpers barely bothered the rim all night. He went 11 for 14 from the field and finished with game highs of 27 points, 11 rebounds and five blocked shots. He also had one assist (back to that later).
“I feel like I could’ve done a little bit better,” said Diaz, prompting laughter from Mavin and others in earshot. “I feel like I could’ve gotten more blocked shots, more rebounds. I’m not disappointed in my performance. I’ve got to give my guards a lot of credit, screening for me to get me open.”
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Mavin said: “He was going through the whole game. That was something we were trying to ride the whole game. I got going in the second half, but it was kind of fun watching him just … kill.”
Mavin shot 6 of 10 and had 14 points in the second half, and he had 16 points and six assists for the game.
Good defensive performances — holding FAU (7-5, 0-1 Conference USA) to 37.9 percent shooting from the field, forcing some hits from Jupiter for the Owls to get that — are team efforts, and that’s what FIU (8-6, 1-0) got throughout the first half and late in the second half.
“I thought the perimeter guys did well,” Panthers coach Anthony Evans said. “I thought, near the end of the game, Adrian and Daviyon [Draper] did a good job of protecting the rim. As long as we play team defense, not individual defense, I think we’ll be a good team.”
With the score tied at 57 and 2:13 left, in the scramble for the rebound off a Mavin miss, officials found a foul of Diaz by FAU’s Jackson Trapp. Diaz made both of those free throws, giving FIU a 59-57 lead, then slapped Marquan Botley’s drive out of bounds at the other end. Draper slid perfectly with FAU’s Javier Lacunza to contest Lacunza’s drive, and Diaz rebounded the miss with 44 seconds left.
Out of the timeout, Mavin went inside to Diaz again. With FAU collapsing for the turnaround jumper everybody at FAU Arena expected, Diaz dished out to Draper for a 12-foot jumper. Draper put up the first non-Diaz or Mavin points of the half for FIU, which took a 61-57 lead.
“He hits that shot in practice all the time,” Diaz said. “I was confident he could hit that shot, and I’m glad he did.”
That basket increased in importance when Solomon Poole drained a long three-pointer off the dribble with 3.7 seconds left. After Poole fouled Tashawn Desir and Desir made one of two free throws, Poole’s desperation half-court shot clanged away.