Panthers set for second showdown against Middle Tennessee

Phil Taylor. (Sergio Naser/The Beacon)
By: Malcolm Shields / Staff Writer
malcolm.shields@fiusm.com

Phil Taylor. (Sergio Naser/The Beacon)

The last time the Golden Panthers squared-off against Middle Tennessee, on Dec. 29, they were breaking in a new lineup in the frontcourt while adjusting their play from the guard positions. Although FIU out-shot the Blue Raiders from the field, the Golden Panthers were unable to secure the win.

On Jan. 12, FIU (4-11, 1-2 SBC) will get their second opportunity against the Sun Belt Conference’s best team; this time at U.S. Century Bank Arena.

Inconsistent Play

Head coach Isiah Thomas was not pleased with the effort shown in his team’s 54-50 defeat to last place Louisiana-Monroe on Jan. 7.

“Our [players] just got to learn that there is one way to play,” Thomas said.

One of the issues that have plagued the Panthers this season has been the inconsistent play from the guard position.

“We kept settling for the three [pointers], we kept shooting long shots,” Thomas said.

The frontcourt of Dominique Ferguson, Brandon Moore, Gilles Dierickx and Joey De La Rosa has struggled to make a consistent impact for the Panthers on both sides of the floor. In their last game against ULM, FIU had a tough time establishing the front court offensively.

“We did not have enough patience to move the ball and put it inside,” coach Thomas said. “Our size and our height is our advantage. We have to play inside-out.”

The Panthers have been out-rebounded in their last eight contests.

Defensive Stalwarts

The one constant that the Panthers have had during conference play is it’s defense. The implementation of the 2-3 zone defense has been the foundation for the Golden Panthers this season. Through the first three games in Sun Belt Conference play, the Panthers are in the top five in blocked shots, defensive field goal percentage and three-point percentage. In all three conference games this season, the Panthers have held their opponents under 40 percent shooting from the field.

Conference Best

Middle Tennessee (13-2, 4-0 SBC) enters the match-up against FIU on a seven-game winning streak after defeating Louisiana-Lafayette 65-53. Guards Marcos Knight and Raymond Cintron will provide an outside shooting threat for MTSU.

In the last meeting against FIU, the front line of forwards JT Sulton, LaRon Dendy and Shawn Jones matched the physicality of the Panthers front line. The trio combined to tally 43 of the Blue Raiders’ 71 points in the win.

The physical play also cost the Panthers, as Middle Tennessee shot 42 free-throws, causing most of FIU’s big men to be in foul trouble throughout the game. Entering the matchup with the Blue Raiders, the Panthers will need to solidify its deficiencies on both ends of the floor.

“It just starts in practice,” Phil Taylor said. “We have to keep improving and take our practices into the games.”

Wright Out

For the sixth consecutive contest, the Panthers will be without senior guard DeJuan Wright against Middle Tennessee due to a leg injury.

The Panthers have dropped four out of their last five games without the senior guard from Detroit.

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