FIU’s opening opponent, Trinity Baptist, might as well have been “Homestead” or “Nurburgring” as far as the Panthers were concerned. During Friday’s 71-39 win, they used the National Christian College Athletic Association Division II school as one would a test track.
Not that the Panthers excessively ran on the Eagles, although they did their fair share. What they ran onto the court were various combinations of players. Of the 10 Panthers who played, nine played double-digit minutes and seven played between 19 and 27 minutes.
“We haven’t had all of our players in practice,” FIU coach Anthony Evans said. “So this was an opportunity to see guys together, to see [sophomore forward] Cam [Smith] and [senior center] Adrian [Diaz] together and see how that combination worked. [Junior] Ray [Rodriguez] played the point with some guys. We just tried to mix and match. See what works and what doesn’t.
“We’ve played back and forth the last couple of days we played with some lineups,” Evans added. “Tonight, I wanted to see in live action if it worked. For the most part I think the guys understand who they are and what they can do. Now it’s just a matter of building the chemistry.”
FIU started with Rodriguez and sophomore Eric Nottage at guard, 6-6 swingman Jason Boswell at forward with 6-7 Daviyon Draper and Diaz at center. Junior-college transfer Donte McGill played some point guard off the bench. Freshman Kimar Williams had a game-high five assists and scored 10 points in 19 minutes.
In just 14 minutes, sophomore Hassan Hussein scored six points on 3-for-3 shooting and pulled down four rebounds. Williams, Draper (12 points) and Diaz all scored in double figures. The scoring was almost as equitable as the distribution of minutes and almost exclusively from two-point range — FIU shot 3 for 13 from three-point range.
Against a smaller Trinity Baptist lineup (6-8 Shannon Walls, the only Eagle above 6-5, played three minutes), the 6-11 Diaz dominated with game highs in points (15), rebounds (nine) and blocks (four). He also had three steals and altered several shots.
Still, the 2014-15 Conference USA All-Defensive team player said: “I could’ve done better defensively. I could’ve rebounded more, blocked more shots.”
With hustle late in the second half, Trinity Baptist actually wound up outrebounding FIU 41-35, including 16 offensive rebounds. The Panthers managed only six.