What do you want to talk about first in FIU’s 88-74 dismantling of Louisiana Tech on Thursday, a team Panthers coach Anthony Evans felt two weeks ago sat a cut above the rest of Conference USA?
You want to talk about a first half of offense hot enough to cook a whole cow (or pig — this is Miami) featuring a school-record 23 first-half points by junior guard Donte McGill? Or a defense that unplugged the Bulldogs such that the game felt over with eight minutes left and FIU up by 11?
Actually, had the Panthers stopped scoring there, up 73-62, they would’ve lost by only one at FIU Arena. That’s how completely FIU (9-8, 3-1 Conference USA) made the Dunkin’ Dogs look like a pickup team from Dunkin’ Donuts. Especially the guard Dog with the Donut number. No. 0 Alex Hamilton, on the Lute Olsen Award (best two-to-four-year college player) Midseason Watch List, put up 13 points on inefficient 5-of-14 shooting. Hamilton averages 18.4 points per game.
FIU trumped the Bulldogs’ zero with No. 1, Jason Boswell, a long-limbed 6-6 junior guard. Boswell eventually fouled out, but his work long had been done — 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting, four rebounds, two steals, a blocked shot and neutralization of Hamilton.
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“We were trying to contain the ball-handlers and make them finish,” Evans said. “Instead of everybody sucking in so they can dish off and get a layup. Jason did a great job on [Hamilton]. He’s averaging 18 points per game, and he did a good job one-on-one.”
Throughout the game, the Bulldogs (13-4, 2-2) circled the perimeter, looking for a lane to drive or space to beat one-on-one defense by penetration. They rarely found it, and eventually most possessions resembled five guys who met on the playground Thursday afternoon.
“They liked to drive to the basket,” Evans said. “They were going to be a physical team. They liked to offensive rebound. That’s one of the things we talked about all week.”
Also, the Bulldogs got nothing cheap. While they averaged 8.7 steals and 12.4 turnovers created per game, FIU bankrupted them — only two steals and nine Panthers turnovers.
That’s even more evidence of FIU’s offensive cohesion. Teams rarely shoot 71.4 percent from the field and 63.6 percent from three-point range, as FIU did in the first half, without easy baskets off rebounds or in transition. That FIU did that with only two second-chance points gained off its lone first-half offensive rebound and two points off the break screams of its superior half-court execution.
McGill’s 23 points broke the FIU first-half record set by future NBA guard Carlos Arroyo against North Texas on Dec. 30, 2000. McGill had a game-high 29 points. Daviyon Draper added 18 points for FIU, and Dayon Griffin’s 16 led the Bulldogs.
Reminded afterwards of his past estimation of Louisiana Tech, Evans was asked if FIU now joins the Bulldogs in that conference upper echelon.
“I think we’re a good team,” Evans said. “We played great tonight in sustained effort. Hard to say who’s in the top of the pack, the bottom of the pack, the middle of the pack because there’s a lot of basketball left to play.”