This was noise unlike ever heard at an FIU basketball game.
When Devon Andrews hit a three-pointer from the right elbow, drew a foul and made a free throw to complete a four-point play on Saturday night, a roar ran up and down the stands.
That play cut the Florida Atlantic Owls’ lead to 71-66 with 7:42 left in the game. The Panthers ultimately lost 89-72, but the biggest story of the night was that the crowd of 4,710 was the largest ever to watch an FIU home basketball game.
FIU first-year coach Jeremy Ballard was thrilled with the fans but disappointed with the loss that dropped his team’s record to 13-8 overall, 4-4 in Conference USA.
“I apologize to everyone who was here because we’re better than that,” Ballard said. “I would like to thank the students, alumni and student-athletes who came out. … I wish we could’ve played better.”
FIU led for most of the first half, but FAU’s Anthony Adger banked in a three-pointer at the buzzer to give the Owls a 43-42 advantage at the break.
The Owls started the second half on a 10-0 run and held off that brief FIU challenge inspired by Andrews.
FAU shot 65.2 percent in the second half, compared to 25.7 percent for FIU. The Panthers, unable to consistently penetrate FAU’s zone, jacked up too many three-pointers (9-for-30, 30 percent).
Meanwhile, FAU was more efficient from deep (7-for-15, 46.7 percent). Overall, FAU missed just eight second-half shots.
“We could never string together enough stops,” Ballard said. “Once we stopped getting stops, we got down on ourselves for one thing or another, and it was a snowball effect.”
Andrews led FIU in scoring with 21 points, and he was efficient, making 7-of-14 from the floor, including 3-of-4 on three-pointers. He also made 4-of-5 free throws and added seven rebounds.
“I’m proud of Devon — he played his tail off,” Ballard said of Andrews, a junior-college transfer who sat out last season. “He was a warrior tonight. But we need everyone to be a warrior.”
FIU point guard Brian Beard, who entered the game leading the nation in total steals, gives tremendous effort every night but has proven to be an inconsistent shooter.
Against FAU, he played a team-high 35 minutes — seemingly all of them at break-neck speed — and had 16 points and two steals. But he made just 4-of-16 shots from the floor, and his assists-to-turnover ratio of 2-2 wasn’t stellar.
FIU center Osasumwen Osaghae, a former Miami Southridge standout, added nine points, a game-high 13 rebounds and a team-high three blocks. He entered the game ranking eighth in the nation in blocks.
Next up for FIU is a home game on Thursday against Southern Miss, and you can bet Ballard — who has done a noteworthy job turning around Panthers fortunes from last season’s 14-18 record — will insist on a better overall effort.
“When you are focused on things you can’t control, when you are focused on the previous play … then you don’t have a clear head to make the next play,” Ballard said. “Our spirit wasn’t where it needed to be, and we had dejected body language. We were down on ourselves, and we should know better.
“Body language is something we harp on all the time. I don’t expect us to play perfect. But just like you do in life, you have to respond.”