Perhaps it’s appropriate that the first FIU men’s basketball in 18 days at FAU Arena ended with the cosmetic, completely-unrelated-to-reality score of FIU 64, Florida Atlantic 56.
After all, the two-and-a-half week gap was caused by this game being moved from Jan. 24 for the Miss Universe pageant.
Don’t be fooled by what you see above. Before two free throws with eight seconds left ended the scoring, FIU’s lead hadn’t been as small as eight since 13-5 with 12:05 remaining in the first half. The Panthers bulge grew to 36-16 at halftime, 44-18 three minutes into the second half and the rest of the way wasn’t their fight to keep their lead, but to keep their interest in the Owls.
Example: once FIU (11-10, 4-4 in Conference USA) took that lead, it went stone cold for 4:20…and still led by 20. The crowd of 1,543 took relaxed glee in the show.
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FIU senior guard Dennis Mavin, Conference USA’s leading scorer in conference games, had a game-high 18 points, a game-high six assists and nine rebounds. Center Adrian Diaz put in 13 points with seven rebounds. But they got help from 6-7 guard Dominque Williams’ 12 points on 5-of-8 from the field, including two of three from three-point range.
The Panthers shot 63.6 percent from the field in the first half, when the game had form and their attention, and had 10 assists. Saturday in Charlotte, FIU shot 54.4 percent from the field and had 15 assists for the game. The Panthers had been averaging eight assists per conference game before the Charlotte game, worst in Conference USA.
“Moving the ball, sharing the ball, trusting in each other,” Mavin said.
“When other guys play well, the team looks really good,” FIU coach Anthony Evans said. “That’s what happened against Charlotte. I think that was a carry over into today’s game. As long as we play basketball like that, we’re going to continue to get better.”
But defense dictated the game’s direction. Diaz blocked five shots. FIU allowed the Owls (8-11, 1-7) to go only 7 of 27 (25.9 percent) from the field in the first half and 21 of 66 (31.8 percent) for the game.
Mavin and junior point guard Tashawn Desir, with forward Daviyon Draper doing a lurking glide in to help at times, got sternum-to-sternum with FAU guards Solomon Poole, Justin Massey and Marquan Botley once they crossed midcourt. That started the discombobulation.
FIU rebounded well in the first half, coming down with 15 defensive rebounds while holding the Owls to five.
“In the first half, I thought we pressured them some and we didn’t allow them to get into their sets,” Evans said. “Once they shot it, they missed, we ran. We got some fast break points. That’s something we can do off of defense.”
Massey scord a team-high 16 points for FAU. Center Justin Raffington had 14 with 10 rebounds. Kevin Penn pulled down 11 rebounds without scoring a point before fouling out.