Riding high from a dramatic buzzer-beater finish that garnered national attention and lifted them to a thrilling win in the Conference USA tournament opener, the FIU Panthers hoped to recreate that same magic against UTEP in the quarterfinals.
But the No. 2-seed Miners had other plans.
The Miners’ offense exploded toward the end of the first half and led by as much as 23 points as the Panthers’ season came to a close in an 83-71 loss Thursday afternoon.
UTEP had five players score in double-digits in their offensive blitz against FIU, led by forwards Julian Washburn (19 points) and Vince Hunter (16 points). The Miners went 61 percent from the field and hit eight of their 12 shots from beyond the arc in the win.
FIU senior guard Dennis Mavin, the hero from the Panthers’ victory on Wednesday against UTSA, finished with a game-high 20 points in his final collegiate game.
“Once they got into a rhythm, it was tough to try to stop them … they are a second seed for a reason,” FIU Head Coach Anthony Evans said in the postgame press conference.
Keeping UTEP’s defense off balance and out of rhythm for a good portion of the first half with an aggressive press defense, the Panthers managed to keep the game within arm’s reach, with Mavin picking up where he left off the day before.
Mavin scored 11 first-half points for the Panthers and got help from center Adrian Diaz and forward Dominique Williams, who combined for 15 more points in the opening half.
But the Panthers’ offense went cold in the waning minutes of the first half, going 0-for-6 from the field in the last 3:50 of the first half. The Miners took full advantage, scorching the Panthers on the transition and going on a 6-0 run to end the half with a 14-point lead.
Things failed to improve in the second half for FIU, with UTEP continuing to exploit their size advantage in the paint and their speed on transitions to build a lead that the Panthers were unable to overcome.