Panthers defeat last year’s Cinderella, but stumble into new year

The FIU men's basketball team played through the Winter break while others rested.

As everyone counted down to the holidays and planned what gift to get their loved ones, the FIU men’s basketball team spent their break on the hardwood taking on some of their most top-notch opponents of the season.

In what was the largest attended home game of the season, the Panthers played host to last season’s sweet-sixteen Cinderella team in Florida Gulf Coast University.

In the first nationally televised game on the Lime Court, the Panthers clipped the Eagles in a 72-61 win.

The Panthers have been led by the “Batman and Robin” duo of senior Tymell Murphy and redshirt senior Rakeem Buckles. In the matchup with FGCU, Murphy withstood the fast paced Eagles, finishing with a game-high 23 points, as well as a perfect 10-of-10 from the free-throw line. Buckles added a double-double, with 11 points and 13 rebounds.

Entering the New Year, the two had combined for 47 blocked shots (24 – Buckles; 23 – Murphy), the most by any two players in Conference USA.

Size has also been a plus for the Panthers. Standing at 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-7 respectively, Murphy and Buckles lead the conference in rebounding. Buckles has been hovering around with some of the nation’s top rebounders, reaching as much as second in the nation in that category.

After the FGCU game, the Panthers had a two-week layoff before hosting last year’s National Champion Louisville Cardinals. The Cards, ranked sixth in the country during their matchup, were led by Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino.

The game was scheduled as a part of a contract when Richard Pitino was the leading man for the Panthers. When Pitino left FIU for Minnesota, Louisville had the option to cancel the series.

Father Pitino chose to honor the contract and play FIU, the first time ever that a National Champion has played at the U.S Century Bank Arena.

The bench for the Panthers struggled to cut into the Cardinals lead, only accounting for five points in the contest.

“We played against a very good basketball team,” Head Coach Anthony Evans said. “We went out there and played good in spurts. I think their depth wore us down a little bit and they finished the game.”

The dynamic duo of Murphy and Buckles were kept in check by the Cardinals, as Murphy finished with 16 points and Buckles with 13.

Buckles had originally started his collegiate career with Pitino and the Cardinals, but a series of devastating injuries ended his tenure at Louisville.

At the time, Richard Pitino was an assistant for the Cardinals and when he was named the head coach for the Panthers, he was accompanied by Buckles who came back to his hometown to play for FIU.

“I treated it as another game. I didn’t really see them guys as anybody special, I just wanted to win,” Buckles said after the game.

A week after the loss to the Cards and celebrating Christmas with family and friends, the Panthers headed up to the nation’s capital to face the Georgetown Hoyas in their final game of 2013.

The game was the third-straight game that FIU was featured on Fox Sports 1, making it more regular-season national TV exposure than last season and one game short of the 2011-12 season.

Whether it was the cold weather or the week in-between games, the Panthers were unable to end the year on a happy note, losing to the Hoyas 92-57.

A 30-4 run helped the Hoyas offense gain momentum and keep the Panthers grounded. It wasn’t until there was 6:57 left in the first half when the Panthers took a bite out of the Hoyas lead and began running their offense.

Evans chose to start the game without regular starters Murphy, Buckles and freshman Jason Boswell on the bench.

“We started off the game with a whole different chemistry, a whole different fire that starts the game,” Boswell said. “Us not starting the game definitely messed up the teams flow but coach, he’s a great coach. He’s willing to teach us a lesson. We messed up, you have to deal with the consequences.”

Eight different Georgetown players attributed to a season-high 50 points in the first half, 30 of which came from in the paint.

The Panthers have also been playing minus their senior point guard Ray Taylor. Taylor played the first seven games of the season before eligibility questions arose, forcing him to leave the team for the time being.

There is no timetable to if or when Taylor will return to the team.


About the Author

Patrick Chalvire
: Radio Host for Panther Sports Talk Live. Assistant Sports Director for The Beacon. Majoring in Communication Arts. Sports fan and aspiring anchor.

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