Panthers clash with division leader Blue Raiders

Jerica Coley is second in the nation in points per game with 24.2 (Beacon File Photo)

Brandon Wise/ Staff Writer

Jerica Coley is second in the nation in points per game with 24.2 (Beacon File Photo)

There are two teams in the Sun Belt that nobody wants to see right now: the FIU Panthers (11-5, 1-2 SBC) and the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (12-5, 4-0 SBC).

Both teams are riding winning streaks, FIU with a four game and Middle Tennessee with a six game. One of those will come to an end when the two teams meet at U.S. Century Bank Arena on Jan. 12.

The Panthers will have to find a way to contain Forward Ebony Rowe of the Blue Raiders. Rowe comes into this game averaging a double-double, with 16.7 points per game and 10 rebounds per game.

In their last game, the Blue Raiders trounced the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns 104-53, where five different players reached double digit scoring.

Heading into this game, the Panthers are on a roll of their own. In fact, the last loss the Panthers suffered was against the same Blue Raiders 58-53 on Dec. 21 in Murfreesboro.

In the last meeting, Jerica Coley was held to only 17 points and five assists, just making 7-18 shots from the floor. Other than Fanni Hutlassa (13) and Finda Mansare (13), no other Panther could even reach six points.

The key will be on how well Mansare can matchup against Rowe in the paint. In their last meeting, Rowe was dominant inside, grabbing 13 rebounds and scoring 15 points.

The offense has been run through Coley, then dishing it off to Hutlassa as she tries to find open space.

If Coley cannot find open space, then Hutlassa will either shoot or try and get it down low to Mansare for points in the paint.

As of late, Mansare’s role in the offense is scoring in double digits in five of the past six contests.

Holy Coley

Coley heads into this game coming off her best performance of the year, where she went for a career-high 36 points against ULM on Jan. 7. For her performance, she was awarded the Sun Belt player of the week recognition.

She is the third leading scorer in the nation, averaging 24.9 points per game. Not only has her scoring been off the charts, but she also has 7.5 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game, making her top 20 in the nation.

Head coach Cindy Russo simply stated how great of an athlete Coley is.

“Jerica is everybody’s game plan,” Russo said. “We really need to execute our offense so that we can get her the ball back. She has to be everybody’s game plan, she attracts a committee to stop her.”

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