FIU spent the free week before playing Conference USA travel partner Florida Atlantic working on defense. After Saturday’s 71-63 victory against the Owls, Panthers coach Anthony Evans felt his team got paid for its labor.
“We’ve been scoring enough points. But on the defensive end, we haven’t been at our best. That’s something we’ve got to correct,” Evans said. “The energy when we come out, defensively, is going to help us be consistent.
“Offensively, we’ve been up and down this year. But if we play that defense, any game we play we’re going to be in with a chance to win.”
The next games that matter in a concrete way for FIU will come during the week after next at the Conference USA tournament in Birmingham, Alabama.
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Last week’s losses at North Texas and Rice removed a winning record from the list of possibilities for FIU (13-16, 7-9 Conference USA).
Wins in its remaining home games, on Thursday against Conference USA regular-season leader UAB and on Saturday against Middle Tennessee State, can send FIU into the conference tournament with momentum and a better seeding.
FIU helped hold the Owls — a maladroit group that didn’t help itself — to 35.1 percent shooting from the field and 36.4 percent from three-point range.
On his postgame radio show, FAU coach Michael Curry said his team (7-22, 5-11) missed 10 layups or shots in the paint during the first half.
FIU senior forward Daviyon Draper compiled game highs in scoring (21 points) and rebounding. Not only did Draper’s 13 rebounds lead all players, his 11 defensive rebounds would’ve done that by themselves. Junior guard Donte McGill added 19 points.
McGill’s personal 7-2 run on a layup, a jumper and a three-pointer took FIU from 5-2 down to 9-7 ahead and snapped the game out of offensive narcolepsy.
Later in the first half, Draper went on a nine-point run with a layup, a three-pointer and a pair of jumpers to push FIU’s lead to 22-14 with 3:50 left in the half.
With 6:37 left in the game, Draper had 19 points. McGill also had 19 points, and FIU held a 19-point lead.
That’s more symmetrical than 84.7 percent of everything else that happened Saturday afternoon.
To be fair, expecting artistry from two teams a combined 18 games under .500 might be asking for Picasso from paint gunners.
“Both teams kind of know tendencies,” Evans said. “We’ve played each other a bunch of times, twice this year and last year. We kind of know the things we want to run and people we want to get the ball to. So, they’re going to make it a little more difficult.”