Without Wright, Panthers fall to Blue Raiders

By Malcolm Shields/ Staff Writer

Throughout the season, the Panthers have risen to the level of its competition. On Dec. 29, the Panthers were back on the road in Murfreesboro to take on Middle Tennessee. After trailing by 10 points in the second half, the Panthers cut the lead down to three points late in the game, but couldn’t complete the comeback as they fell in its Sun Belt Conference opener 71-66.

Phil Taylor finished with 22 points and three assists to lead FIU. Jeremy Allen added 17 points and Dominique Ferguson recorded a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds. FIU finished shooting 51 percent from the field.

The team’s leading scorer DeJuan Wright sat out the game with a nagging leg injury.

“In these last couple of games, this is where we really miss DeJuan [Wright],” Head Coach Isiah Thomas said. “In these kind of losses is where his point production is missed.”

For the Panthers, this might signal the early beginning of life without its senior guard as Wright missed his third consecutive game this season.

The Panthers utilized its big man rotation of Brandon Moore, Joey De La Rosa, Gilles Dierickx and Ferguson who brought a physical presence to the Panthers defensively.

“Our big guy played well,” Thomas said. “Joey [De La Rosa] made a big difference in the game. His size and presence was big.”

The Panthers physicality at times cost them as the Blue Raiders continued to reach the free-throw line. Middle Tennessee finished the game shooting 27-of-42 from the charity stripe, but shot only 40 percent from the field.

With the new additions in the frontcourt, Ferguson played one of his better games on the season.

“Since Brandon and Joey are apart of the team it has helped me out,” Ferguson said. “Coach puts me out on the wing and I can take advantage of a small person guarding me or a slower big.”

The Panthers (3-10, 0-1 SBC) kept it close mid way in the first half, trailing 17-16 to the Blue Raiders. Off of FIU turnovers, the Blue Raiders (12-2, 1-0 SBC) went on a 9-0 run to take a 26-16 lead. The Panthers countered with a 9-2 run to cut the deficit to 28-26 with 4:41 remaining in the half. In the final four minutes of the half, the action got chippy as LaRon Dendy was assessed a technical foul on what appeared to be a hard foul by FIU.

With three seconds remaining in the half, Dominique Ferguson scored on a layup and complained too much to the official and was given a technical foul. Two made free throws extended Middle Tennessee’s lead to 38-33 at the half.  On offense, Taylor and Ferguson led the Panthers with 12 and 10 points respectively at the break. Offensively the Panthers executed better in its half-court sets. FIU finished shooting 50 (14-of-28) from the field. Middle Tennessee was able to obtain its halftime lead via the free throw line as the Blue Raiders shot 15-of-22 from the line.

The Panthers came out in the second half on a 6-2 run to cut its deficit to 40-37 due to solid interior passing by Dierickx. Although the Panthers defensively made it difficult for the Blue Raiders to score, Middle Tennessee held on to its lead by continuously getting to the foul line.

The Panthers cut the deficit to 62-58 with under 3:48 minutes remaining in the game on a Taylor three-pointer.

With 2:20 remaining, Taylor knocked down a step-back three to cut the deficit to 66-63. On the next offensive possession, Bruce Massey forced an FIU turnover and completed an alley-oop to LaRon Dendy to stake the Blue Raiders to a 68-63 lead. Under a minute to go, the Blue Raiders ran the shot clock down and were rewarded with a dunk by Shawn Jones with 35 seconds remaining.

On the following possession, FIU turned the ball over which iced the game for Middle Tennessee.

“We have to maintain and keep our composure and stay together as a team,” Taylor said of FIU’s final minute execution. “I feel like we are improving.”

The Panthers continue its road trip on Dec. 31 with a visit to Bowling Green, Kentucky as they will face the Hilltoppers of Western Kentucky.

Be the first to comment on "Without Wright, Panthers fall to Blue Raiders"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.