By: Malcolm Shields / Staff Writer
The frustration for the Panthers’ head coach Isiah Thomas was evident in the first half against Denver on Feb. 11. With 5:58 remaining in the first half, FIU trailed 25-9. Thomas benched all five of his starters.
Turnovers and poor shooting by FIU, coupled by the efficient shooting by the Pioneers, paced Denver to a 38-14 lead at the break. Fueled by the scoring of seniors Jeremy Allen and DeJuan Wright, the Panthers made a push to cut the deficit to three late in the second half. In the final five minutes, Denver’s 7-0 run ended the Panthers comeback, as the Pioneers held on for a 77-63 victory at U.S. Century Bank Arena.
Allen finished with a career-high 29 points and four steals. Wright followed with 15 points and nine rebounds.
“We dug ourselves in a hole in the first half,” Thomas said. “Our starters put us in a deep hole.”
Denver’s (18-8, 8-5 SBC) ball movement in half-court sets led to open shots. The benefactors were Brian Stafford and Chase Hallam. Each led the Pioneers with nine points at the break. Combined, both shot five-of-eight from behind the arch.
Offensively, FIU (7-17, 4-8 SBC) continued to turn the ball over and settle for poor shots in half-court sets. The Panthers finished shooting 33.3 percent from the field at the break. Denver finished shooting 50 percent from the field at halftime.
The Panthers began the second half using the full court press. Combined with a 16-7 run, the Panthers trimmed the deficit to 45-30. Allen and Wright began to attack the rim to get the Panthers back into the game. An Allen three-pointer trimmed the Pioneers lead to 50-38 with 10:42 remaining in the second half.
The Pioneers struggled to knock down shots from the field in the second half. A three-pointer by Wright cut the deficit to eight with eight minutes remaining.
With less than seven minutes remaining, another Allen three cut the deficit to 58-52. The closest FIU got to tying the game was at 58-55 with 5:26 remaining. But Brett Olson’s 19 points and Chris Udofia’s 17 points sparked the Pioneers with a late charge to close out the game.
“They were the better team,” Allen said. Allen also eclipsed the 1,000 career-point mark on a layup in the second half.
Off the bench, Cameron Bell provided a spark for the Panthers off the bench. “I’m just trying to get out there and make a difference,” Bell said. He finished with 12 points and eight rebounds.
For the entire second half, Phil Taylor and Dominique Ferguson sat on the bench. “They have to play better,” Thomas said “Some nights they look good, some times they don’t.”
Thomas stated that it could be a possibility that Deric Hill may start in place of Taylor for the Panthers’ next game against UALR on Feb. 16.