Florida International U

Here’s what the FIU Panthers are doing to improve after breakthrough basketball season

FIU Panthers’ Brian Beard, Jr. (4) goes for shoots against March 3, 2019 at FIU Ocean Bank Convocation Center. Beard led Conference USA in steals (2.9), ranked second in assists (6.0) and sixth in points (17.4).
FIU Panthers’ Brian Beard, Jr. (4) goes for shoots against March 3, 2019 at FIU Ocean Bank Convocation Center. Beard led Conference USA in steals (2.9), ranked second in assists (6.0) and sixth in points (17.4). FOR THE MIAMI HERALD

FIU’s breakthrough men’s basketball season ended with a thud last Tuesday, getting beat by host Wisconsin-Green Bay 98-68 in the second round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament.

Still, FIU (20-14) finished just one win short of the program record for single-season victories. The first-round win against Texas State was FIU’s first-ever postseason victory.

The Panthers failed to be among the 68 teams to qualify for the NCAA Tournament or the 32 invited to the NIT, but this first season under coach Jeremy Ballard still ranks as huge progress for the program.

Whether the Panthers can grow from here will depend in part on how successfully they can replace graduating point guard Brian Beard, who led Conference USA in steals (2.9), ranked second in assists (6.0) and sixth in points (17.4).

Beard finished his collegiate career ranking second in FIU history in steals behind Carlos Morban. Beard is also second in career assists, behind ex-NBA guard Carlos Arroyo. It wouldn’t be surprising if FIU retired Beard’s jersey one day.

In addition to Beard’s departure, Willy Nunez, who ranked eighth in the league in three-pointers per game (2.4), also graduates along with role players Mike Douglas and Elhadji Dieng.

That leaves nine players on the roster, including Cameron Corcoran, a 6-1 sophomore guard who sat out this season as per NCAA transfer rules. As a freshman at Arkansas-Little Rock, he averaged 6.7 points.

FIU added one player in the early signing period: Dante Wilcox, a 6-6, 220-pound wing who led West Palm Beach’s Oxbridge Academy to a 25-1 record this past season, losing in the regional quarterfinals.

The second signing period begins April 17, and FIU could add up to three more recruits.

“We are evaluating players non-stop,” Ballard said. “We like to ‘team recruit’ so that kids know they are wanted by our whole staff.”

Ballard will hope to reload next season with a nucleus of 6-1 sophomore point guard Antonio Daye, 6-6 senior wings Devon Andrews and Trejon Jacob and 6-7, 250-pound center Osasumwen Osaghae.

Andrews averaged 15.3 points, ranking second on the team and12th in the league. He had 27 double-figure scoring games.

Daye averaged 8.5 points and was second on the team in assists.

Jacob was third on the team in scoring (10.4) and led FIU in three-point percentage (38.3), converting 54-of-141 from long range.

Osaghae led the league in blocked shots (3.1) and ranked third in rebounds (8.5). The next step for him is to improve his 8.4 scoring average, getting more touches to capitalize on his 59.1 field-goal percentage.

“Hopefully we have only just begun in terms of the success we will experience,” Ballard said. “If our guys improve like we think they can, we can have a special year next season.”

As a team, FIU led the league in scoring, steals and turnover margin.

But the Panthers were just ninth in scoring margin and last in attendance, free-throw percentage (64.0) and three-point percentage (30.2). FIU was also next-to-last in rebounding margin (negative-7.4) and field-goal percentage allowed (45.6).

“Our shooting in general needs to improve,” Ballard said. “We need to address that in recruiting.”

THIS AND THAT

FIU’s baseball team (11-17, 2-7 Conference USA) has lost 10 of its past 11 games, including seven in a row.

On Friday at Florida Atlantic, FIU ace Logan Allen had his scoreless streak snapped at 32 2/3 innings. On Saturday, FIU lost 1-0, and, on Sunday, FIU lost 4-3 in 15 innings.

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