Florida International U

FIU Panthers men face tough stretch on road

FIU coach Anthony Evans says the upcoming road games will help his team improve.
FIU coach Anthony Evans says the upcoming road games will help his team improve. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Friday night’s game against No.5 Louisville represents not just this season’s first FIU men’s basketball opponent of significant stature, but also the start of eight road games over 36 days for FIU.

Before you think Odysseus made the Panthers schedule, understand that the eight games come in one and two-game shots: Friday at Louisville; Dec.14 at Florida Gulf Coast; Dec.18 at Long Island University-Brooklyn and Dec.21 Hartford; Dec.29 at Florida A&M; Jan.4 at FAU; Jan.8 at Middle Tennessee State and Jan.10 at Alabama-Birmingham.

There won’t be any games during fall semester’s finals week. Also note that for two road games, Florida Gulf Coast and FAU, the Panthers will be back in the dorms by Jimmy Kimmel (or Fallon, depending on their tastes).

Besides, as FIU coach Anthony Evans said, “my wife would kill me” if the Panthers were leaving for a month.

“I just think it’s going to make our team tougher and stronger,” FIU junior forward Daviyon Draper said. “Coach has prepared us for this. He’s been talking about this since practice started, that we were going to have a tough road schedule. We’ve got to be tougher mentally and physically.”

Evans, ever matter-of-fact, figures the team might as well look at the upside of the schedule.

“We’re not going to play here in the tournament. We’re not going to play some of our conference games here. So we have to become a better road team. It’s an opportunity for us to become a better road team before we get into conference play. We’re just trying to take the positives from it.”

Tuesday’s 59-38 win against Kennesaw State, a school record for fewest points allowed, turned FIU’s way when Draper, Kris Gulley and Marco Porcher Jimenez zipped off the bench and seemed omnipresent. That spoke to a greater depth the Panthers hoped to have this season.

That FIU had fallen behind 11-6 early demonstrated a knack for being still in the feeling-out stage while its opponents were more fully engaged.

“Now that we’re going on the road, we know there are things we have to do in preparing for games on the road,” Evans said. “We can’t let them go on an 8-0 run, 10-0 run to begin and then try to fight that. We’ve got to have that energy at the beginning of the game. We’ve got to be focused at the beginning of the game rather than trying to come back at the end. Those are things we’ve talked about.

“We’re going to get better as we go along. The chemistry’s still coming. But we’re going to be fine.”

Friday: FIU at No.5 LOUISVILLE

When/where: 7 p.m.; KFC Yum! Center, Louisville, Kentucky.

TV/radio: Fox Sports South; ESPN 3.

Records: FIU 5-3; Louisville 6-0.

Of note: To say this represents a generous jump in opponent quality for FIU would be to overindulge in understatement. The Panthers lost by 24 at Louisville two years ago and 29 at home to Louisville a year ago. But FIU does have a deeper bench than the past two seasons, as evidenced by how bench players Daviyon Draper and graduate student Kris Gulley sparked the decisive first-half run in Tuesday’s win against Kennesaw State.