Great bench play sparks win in home opener

Photo by Joseph Kosanke

Giancarlo Navas/ Staff Writer

In the bowels of the US Century Bank Arena, there is a small, well lit room with a long desk and eight chairs or so in front of it. At the desk was a grinning Janka Hegedus and perhaps the only person happier than her, new FIU women’s head coach Marlin Chin. The Panthers had just finished trashing Florida A&M (81-65) in their season opener and there was an optimism uncommon for the women’s basketball team.

“I am happy. It was a lot of fun and felt really good to play. I am so happy, I am still in the game”, said Hegedus who had a team leading 25 points and seven rebounds.

It was a huge win considering that this FIU team had not won since December of 2014 and it was the first victory for coach Chin.

“I couldn’t be more proud of our ladies. They played hard”, said Chin following the game. “We wanna score 80 points a game, we pushed the tempo.”

FIU pushed the pace all game and managed to force 22 Florida A&M turnovers, allowed for fast break and open court opportunities. The Panthers scored 10 fast break points and got 27 points of Florida A&M turnovers.

Junior guard Taylor Shade may not have had a great statically game, but her ball handling was key in the Panthers victory. Not only going coast to coast off rebounds, but as a primary ball handler getting FIU into their offense early as well as moving the ball.

FIU had 21 assists as a team compares to Florida A&M’s 9. FIU also had five players in double figures, including Shade and the surprise of the game, sophomore Jade Cheek. She had 12 points on eight shots off the bench and shot 2-4 from three, giving the Panthers a floor spacer to help Shade’s penetration game and Hegedus’s paint game.

When asked if Cheek had a green light to shoot Marlin Chin smiled and said “Jade shoots the basketball. If she is open we want her to shoot her.”

Cheek went as far to draw comparisons of herself to reigning NBA MVP Steph Curry. She only played a total of 28 minutes in her freshman campaign before she played 12 minutes in the first game of the new season. Cheek was not the only contributor off the bench, as Soraya Page scored 10 points on 4-8 shooting while grabbing six rebounds. Despite not being a starter she played the second most minutes on the team at 29. Her pick and roll game excelled with Shade’s aggressive play as she was the recipient of a few of Shade’s five assists for the game.

Defensively FIU was dominant in the first half, holding Florida A&M to 20 points on 21% shooting. Shade and Page were the most impressive on defense as Page made all the correct rotations and Shade with good perimeter defense. Most notable on Florida A&M starting guard Victoria Nguyen, who Shade defended most of the afternoon. Nguyen shot a woeful 2-6 from the floor and was forced into six turnovers in her 22 minutes of action.

 

Even though FIU lead wire to wire and had a lead as large as 31, the second half and most specifically the fourth quarter was an area of concern. The Panthers got outscored 22-10 in the final period and allowed multiple Florida A&M runs.

“We have things to work on. We need to take care of the basketball and clean a few things up”, said coach Chin.

Despite all of that, the Panthers have something to look forward to. They got their first win of 2015 and they take on the UCF Knights on Tuesday night looking to start the season 2-0.

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