Eric Nottage could do almost nothing wrong.
More than halfway through a season in which little has gone right for FIU men’s basketball team, Nottage scored a career-high 37 points last Saturday night in a 94-85 win over UAB.
Nottage, who set the FIU Arena single-game scoring record, made 11-of-12 shots from the floor, including 6-of-6 on three-pointers, and was 9-of-9 from the foul line.
The only shot he missed was a layup with 6:37 left in the game, and Nottage finished two points short of the FIU scoring record at any venue, set by Carlos Arroyo on Dec. 30, 2000, at North Texas.
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A 6-2 senior guard who spent two years at Tallahassee Community College, Nottage had never scored more than 16 points in any collegiate game prior to Saturday.
Yet, Nottage said he never checked the scoreboard against UAB — “not one time” — to check his points total.
“My teammates were more excited than me,” said Nottage, who played his high school ball at Miami Northwestern. “Every time I came back to the bench, they were jumping around, pushing me. I was just focused on winning. I was tired of losing.”
That’s because FIU was riding a six-game losing streak at the time.
This Thursday at 7 p.m., the Panthers (5-15, 1-6 Conference USA) will be at home again, playing Florida Atlantic (5-13, 1-6). The rivals are tied for 12th place in the 14-team conference. Only the top 12 teams advance to the league tournament March 8-11 in Birmingham, Alabama.
To get to Alabama, FIU coach Anthony Evans is looking for more big things from Nottage.
“Eric has the potential to go on spurts,” Evans said. “Toward the end of the first half [against UAB], he was shooting with confidence. He started to read the defense. It was a pleasure to watch.”
Nottage has an interesting back story. NFL running back Frank Gore is a cousin on his mother’s side, although the two barely know each other.
Erica Wheeler, a 5-7 WNBA guard who has also played pro basketball in Turkey, Brazil and Puerto Rico, is Nottage’s sister.
Nottage, 22, and Wheeler, a 26-year-old who scored more than 1,000 points during her college career at Rutgers, are close. Wheeler is overseas at the moment but was following Nottage’s 37-point game online.
“She had been texting me during the game, telling me to keep killing it,” Nottage said. “When I talked to her after the game, she was screaming [with excitement].”
A liberal studies major set to graduate this spring, Nottage said he briefly held an offer from the University of Miami during his days at Northwestern. But he said the offer was withdrawn after UM coach Jim Larrañaga came to see him play.
“I got a technical in that game [for arguing with a referee],” Nottage said. “My coach told me after the game that [UM] thought I had a bad attitude.”
There was nothing wrong with his attitude last Saturday night.
“Eric has really improved this season,” Evans said. “He’s taking the ball to the basket better, and he’s able to shoot off the dribble.”