Florida International U

The FIU Panthers men’s basketball team poised for a hot finish to regular season

FIU Panthers’ Devon Andrews (10) goes for a shot against FAU Owls during the men’s basketball game on Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019 at FIU Ocean Bank Convocation Center in Miami.
FIU Panthers’ Devon Andrews (10) goes for a shot against FAU Owls during the men’s basketball game on Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019 at FIU Ocean Bank Convocation Center in Miami. FOR THE MIAMI HERALD

With four regular-season games left plus the Conference USA postseason tournament, the FIU Panthers men’s basketball team has already exceeded last season’s win total of 14.

FIU (16-11, 7-7) took two straight games this past week, which is the first Panthers’ win streak since November.

First-year FIU coach Jeremy Ballard, who has engineered the program’s turnaround, has his team pointed toward 20 wins.

“Our guys are trying to rewrite the history of FIU basketball,” Ballard said, “and 20 is a big-time number.”

FIU, which plays at Florida Atlantic on Saturday, can clinch a winning season with a victory over the Owls. FIU’s school record of 21 wins is also within reach with a big finish.

This past week, FIU beat Rice 86-65 on Thursday as Devon Andrews scored 25 points, Osasumwen Osaghae blocked six shots and Brian Beard and Antonio Daye had five steals each.

On Saturday, FIU beat North Texas 69-59 as Beard had 22 points and Osaghae had five blocks. Daye added 20 points and Andrews had 15 points.

Ballard said his team had its best week of practice leading up to those two wins, and it translated to game action, especially on defense.

“We turned Rice over 33 times,” Ballard said. “North Texas took the air out of the ball, but we still got stops.”

THIS AND THAT

FIU’s baseball team lost the first two games of its season-opening series against visiting Stony Brook before winning 13-2 on Sunday.

FIU’s bullpen allowed a combined 12 runs in 8 1/3 innings in the first two games but then pitched 4 1/3 scoreless frames on Sunday.

The emotional low point for FIU came on Saturday when Will Saxton was one strike away from a save but instead allowed a three-run homer in the top of the ninth as Stony Brook won 7-6.

FIU finally broke through with a seven-run second inning on Sunday that included a two-run inside-the-park homer by third baseman Austin Shenton, the MVP of this summer’s Cape Cod League. Shenton had gone 0-for-8 with four strikeouts and two errors in this past weekend’s first two games before exhaling on Sunday by going 2-for-5 with two RBI.

“He was sick all weekend,” FIU coach Mervyl Melendez said of Shenton, whose inside-the-park homer landed on the warning track in right.

FIU’s 12th-ranked beach volleyball team is set to start its seventh season Friday and Saturday with four matches in DeLand — against Saint Leo, Eckerd, 15th-ranked Stetson and 14th-ranked Georgia State.

“We finished in the top eight last year, and we’re stronger this year,” Buck-Crockett said when asked about being ranked 12th. “But I love being the underdog.”

One FIU player to watch is 5-9 freshman Abbie Hughes, who was named a 2018 second-team All-American in beach by the American Volleyball Coaches Association, stamping her as one of the top 16 prospects in the nation. (Reigning national champ UCLA signed four of the top eight prospects.)

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