Florida International U

FIU men’s basketball team makes long-awaited return home

FIU coach Anthony Evans instructs Dominique Williams during a game at Alabama-Birmingham.
FIU coach Anthony Evans instructs Dominique Williams during a game at Alabama-Birmingham. AP

When the Panthers men’s basketball team last played on Lime Court at FIU Arena, the Heat had a winning record, the Dolphins looked set to make the playoffs and everybody south of the Ohio River knew Alabama and Florida State would play for college football’s national title.

That doesn’t seem so long ago, unless you’re a part of the Panthers roster or coaching staff.

Eight road games, 44 days and one player departure — freshman Larry Dennis transferred to Hutchinson (Kansas) Community College — later, FIU plays its fourth home game of the season Thursday against Marshall.

Geography (one game in Fort Myers, one in Boca Raton) and breaks — no games during fall semester finals week and/or the week that included Christmas — chopped up the eight-game stretch, so calling it a “road trip” would show a disdain for accuracy. Still, mention the time gap between home games to an FIU coach or player and watch the air of fatigue settle over them.

And after Thursday’s game and Saturday’s against Western Kentucky, the men’s and the women’s basketball teams get booted from FIU Arena entirely, locker rooms and all, for the Miss Universe pageant until Jan.27.

FIU opened Conference USA play with an exhausting 62-60 win at FAU behind stellar performances by 6-10 redshirt junior Adrian Diaz and fifth-year senior guard Dennis Mavin. In an indirect way, their combined 43 points led to what followed: blowout losses at Middle Tennessee State (65-52) and Alabama-Birmingham (70-53) last week.

“As a team, we have to do a better job of handling pressure,” FIU coach Anthony Evans said. “Teams are trying to take Adrian away in the post by double teaming and Dennis away on the wing. When they do that, we have to use the counters to our plays to do different things.

“Once we get over halfcourt, they’re denying a lot now. We’ve got to work harder to get open and if they’re going to do that, we have to go backdoor or things like that to release pressure.”

Team adjustments come easier when the team has been together for more than a minute. Of the 10 players who average 13 minutes or more per game, five are transfers in their first seasons on the court for FIU.

Add in early injuries to sophomore guards Dominique Williams and Jason Boswell as well as inconsistent scoring outside of Mavin and Diaz and the Panthers still don’t know on whom they can rely.

“I think the injuries early hurt the chemistry or set us back somewhat — Dominique coming back a couple of [days] before he played,” Evans said. “He played in the first game, not having conditioned the entire time. Jason missed the first three games. It’s been a process trying to figure out our best positions, our best lineups, how guys can help us. We’re still doing that at this point in the season, trying to find a consistent rotation.”

Evans liked the way FIU’s lineup looked against FAU, but lamented the lack of bench scoring in that game (zero points).

Thursday: FIU men vs. Marshall

When/where: 7:30 p.m. FIU Arena.

TV/radio: Live Streaming on http://www.FIUsports.com.

Records: Marshall 4-12 (0-3 Conference USA); FIU 8-8 (1-2).

Noteworthy: Despite their record and having lost 11 of their last 12, the Herd will put some pressure on FIU’s perimeter defense as they lead Conference USA in three-pointers made. They also lead the conference in rebounding. FIU is third in the conference and 76th nationally in three-point defense.

FIU women at Marshall

When/Where: 6 p.m.; Cam Henderson Center

Radio: Streaming online at http://www.marshall.edu/wmul/sports/index.html

Records: (FIU 3-11, 0-3 C-USA); Marshall (9-5, 1-2).

Noteworthy: FIU swept Marshall last season. Marshall’s Chukwuka Ezeigbo, a 6-3 senior, leads the nation with a 67.3 field goal percentage.

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