Thursday counted as a homecoming for the FIU men’s basketball team, with their last home game being 44 days previous. Marshall came into FIU Arena with a homecoming opponent record of 4-12.
And FIU came from 18 points down to win its homecoming in overtime 66-62 by forcing Marshall to be what The Herd’s record and statistics said they were.
In the end, with both teams looking too tired to actually run offensive plays or hit free throws with any consistency, a ferocious one-handed rebound dunk by redshirt junior center Adrian Diaz off a Dennis Mavin miss put FIU ahead 63-62. After a stop, a Marshall foul and Daviyon Draper hitting one of two free throws, Draper blocked Ryan Taylor at the hoop. Kris Gulley grabbed the rebound and raced off to a clinching dunk with nine seconds left.
Gulley’s augmented yell accompanied his hurl of the ball toward the ceiling at the buzzer. The Panthers hung on each other as they sang the alma mater with exhausted grins.
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"Us being back home, it was probably our most emotional game," said Mavin, who had a game-high 19 points.
The Herd came into the game attempting the most three-pointers per game in Conference USA but hitting only the third-most threes per game (8.1) because they fell at only the 11th best percentage (30.6). Despite Marshall losing 12 of its last 13, FIU coach Anthony Evans shook his head knowing that if those threes started to fall, the night could be very long.
Marshall drained its first three 20 seconds into the game. And it was a long night – for a half. Dropping in 10 of their first 17 threes (while going two of nine from two-point range), the Thundering Herd galloped out to a 34-16 first half lead.
"We made the adjustment of stop sucking in so they could kick out and shoot threes," Evans said. "We started to stay with guys and try to force them to make shots over us."
After opening the game shooting 58.8 percent from behind the arc, Marshall made only two of the 14 threes they tried from that point forward. Those shots suddenly peeling paint off the rim laid naked the deficiencies in Marshall’s limited offensive game.
FIU sophmore guard Dominique Williams pointed out that once FIU made Marshall use more of the shot clock on offense and defense, wearing them down a bit, those jump shots stopped falling.
Meanwhile, FIU began chipping away at the lead. Diaz and Mavin, FIU’s two leading scorers, each played only 10 first-half minutes with foul trouble. In the second half, Diaz began taking over at the defensive end (four blocks) while Mavin scored 15 second-half and overtime points.
"We were taking a lot of individual shots in the first half, really weren’t moving the ball," Mavin said.
A Diaz lay-in gave FIU a 51-50 lead with 5:35 left. The Panthers free-throw shooting – 11 of 19 in the second half and overtime – wasn’t good enough to put the game away, nor was Marshall’s 4 of 10 enough to push them ahead.
FIU led 59-57 when Taylor drove the lane for a pumping layup with seven-tenths of a second left to send the game into overtime.
Justin Edmonds led Marshall with 15 points. Taylor pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds.