FIU rocketed away from Florida at the start of Thursday’s first round Women’s NIT game.
By halftime, however, the warning lights blinked at FIU and the Gators grew in the rear-view mirror. In the second half, FIU patched together an offense, couldn’t do the same on defense while the Gators smoothly puttered away to a 75-68 win.
Florida (19-14) moves on to play Winthrop, which beat Florida Gulf Coast on Thursday. FIU’s season ends at 19-13.
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It also ends with junior guard Jerica Coley setting a school record with 840 points this season after a 37-point night at U.S. Century Bank Arena. Coley also tied her own school record for single-game free-throw percentage (1.000), although none of those perfect nights saw her go 18 of 18 from the line.
Coley’s 13 of 13 second-half kept FIU in a game that evolved into a second-half scoring debate between Coley and Florida guard Sydney Moss. Moss scored 28 points, 16 of them in the second half, from inside, outside, drives, spin moves and pretty much anything she desired.
“Defensively, they were kind of letting me just penetrate,” Moss said. “They had a big post player on me, and I just kind of went to the basket.”
Also, the Gators caught FIU flat-footed in transition, but more often after FIU baskets than off defensive rebounds.
Gators guard Jaterra Bonds added five assists and 19 points for Florida as well as being the only consistent free-throw shooter for the Gators.
Although FIU’s entire offense seemed to come from Coley on the free-throw line for chunks of the second half, the Gators were 8 of 16 aside from Bonds’ 9 of 11.
In fact, FIU tossed in two field goals over the last 8:50. Yet the Panthers still were down only 70-68 with a minute left when Coley stole the ball from Bonds at midcourt.
Coley’s driving layup went off the backboard, hit the near edge of the rim and careened away. Bonds grabbed the rebound, and Kamika Idom fouled her.
Close at end
Bonds hit 1 of 2 free throws, giving FIU another chance to tie. Coley drew the attention of every Gator who even dressed Thursday, leaving Idom alone in the corner for a three-pointer. Alas, this continued and ended Idom’s inaccurate night (4 of 14). Florida’s Kayla Lewis rebounded and put the game away with two free throws.
In the game’s first 4:06, a couple of Finda Mansare jumpers, Coley steals and Coley buckets had FIU up 11-1, then 13-4.
“Coach [Amanda Butler] kind of got into our butts — ‘Y’all need to pick it up’ blah, blah, blah,’ ” laughed Moss. “We were like, ‘All right, all right.’ ”
Florida got the deficit down to 38-36 at halftime.
Said FIU coach Cindy Russo said: “They got on the boards big time and we stepped back. We told them at halftime, that they had to take a step up now. They’d played well. But they did not take a step up. At best, they might have stayed the same. And we knew that team would put it in another gear. I guess we just don’t know how to put it in another gear.”