Florida International U

Panthers cruise behind McGill in season opener

Guard Donte McGill, right, was the leading scorer for the Panthers last season.
Guard Donte McGill, right, was the leading scorer for the Panthers last season. Miami Herald file

The FIU men’s basketball team, opening against a lowly ranked NAIA opponent, did what was expected on Friday night.

The Panthers won their season opener, defeating the Florida Memorial Lions 76-57 at FIU Arena.

Florida Memorial (0-3) entered this season ranked seventh among nine teams in The Sun Conference.

Senior Donte McGill, FIU’s leading scorer from last season, was in fine form, putting up 25 points. McGill had 11 20-point games last season and averaged 16.1 points.

FIU led 30-20 at the half, holding Florida Memorial to 25.9 percent shooting, including 2-of-13 on three-pointers.

The Panthers didn’t exactly shoot arrow-straight in the first half, making just 45.8 percent. But it was enough as they played tight defense and had a 19-15 rebounding edge.

Elmo Stephens, a 6-7 senior forward, made his first career start for FIU. He played his first two collegiate seasons at Tallahassee Community College and was a reserve for FIU last season, averaging 7.7 points.

Also new to the FIU starting lineup: 6-9 senior forward Michael Kessens, a graduate transfer who started most of last season for the University of Alabama.

This was the start of FIU’s 36th men’s basketball season and its fourth year as a member of Conference USA. FIU is 22-14 in season openers.

FIU leads the all-time series against Florida Memorial, 15-5, winning the past eight in a row.

Up next, FIU will hit the road for four games in a row, starting with Stetson on Monday and then three games in Mobile, Alabama, as part of the Red Diamond Roundball Classic. Those three games, set for Nov. 18-20, will be against host South Alabama, Jacksonville and Youngstown State.

It will be FIU’s first meeting against Jacksonville.

FIU’s next home game is on Feb. 23 against Ave Maria.

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