Hosting maladroit Southern Mississippi on Saturday after slapping Louisiana Tech Thursday gave FIU’s men’s basketball team a chance to show the consistency characteristic of a good team.
Instead, FIU showed why its 9-9.
That’s the Panthers’ overall record, along with 3-2 in Conference USA, after a 66-60 loss to Southern Miss in front of an announced 1,258 at FIU Arena. As for the Golden Eagles, they’re now 5-11 and 2-3 in conference.
“My biggest thing is the consistency of effort,” FIU coach Anthony Evans said. “I don’t think the effort was there, all around. From starters to guys coming off the bench. I think we get up to play LaTech. Well, you’ve got to get up to play Southern Miss. It can’t be a difference. You’ve got to play the same way all the time. I don’t think we’ve learned that yet.”
Senior center Adrian Diaz and junior guard Donte McGill led FIU in scoring, each with 19 points. Both, however, combined mismatched first and second halves.
All but two of Diaz’s points came in the second half, including basket-and-foul three-point plays on consecutive possessions. In the first half, Diaz got his second foul 7:10 into the game. Evans kept him on the bench through the rest of a tight first half that FIU emerged from with a 31-27 lead.
“In my head, I was trying to mentally prepare for the second half,” Diaz said.
Evans said, “They tried to attack Adrian and keep him from getting easy touches. And they sat in the paint. They were going to make us make shots. We didn’t tonight. And they were able to make shots when the clock was running out.”
Such as the three-pointer by junior forward Raheem Watts that put FIU down 59-48 with 4:14 left. Southern Miss managed to get a road win with only one double figure scorer, fifth-year senior guard Kourtlin Jackson (23 points), and no field goals after that Watts three-pointer. Seven free throws in the last 1:17 by Jackson and Robert Thomas III kept the Golden Eagles from choking away the upset under FIU’s full court pressure.
McGill’s 17 first half points, after his school-record 23 first half points Thursday against Louisiana Tech, gave him 40 first half points for the week. But, similar to Thursday, his production regressed to the mean in the second half. McGill went 1 for 3 in the second half. His driving layup cut the Southern Miss lead to 61-54 with 1:07 remaining.
FIU’s most reliable scorer outside of Diaz has been senior forward Daviyon Draper, but his 13 points can be credited to going 7 of 7 from the line. Draper shot 3 of 11 from the field. Outside of Diaz and McGill, FIU hit only 7 of 23 from the field (30.4 percent). That’s better than their second half shooting percentage of 27.3 percent.
“We were taking long shots,” Evans said. “They were packing the paint, the shots they normally hit when nobody is there, somebody was there. Now, we have to make the extra pass and drive it in or take the midrange shot instead of settling for the three.”
FIU missed 14 of 17 three-pointers Saturday, a 17.6 percent success rate.