Panthers lose perfect home record versus Stetson

David Drucker/ Staff Writer

On a night where offense came easy against a resilient Stetson University team, the men’s basketball team’s own mistakes cost them their perfect home record and suffered a tough loss.

In their first game of a four-game home stand, FIU (4-3) fell to the Stetson Hatters 81-75.

Senior center Adrian Diaz put on a show in the second half while claiming the school record in blocks, but his effort was not enough to earn the win.

The Panthers leapt out to an early lead with ease. Senior forward Daviyon Draper knocked down a mid-range jump shot, scored on a layup the next possession and set up Diaz for an alley oop to put the Panthers up 6-2.

When it came time to rotate in guards Donte McGill and Eric Nottage, the Panthers’ high-octane bench took the reigns while Diaz rested.

From 7:37 to 4:13, FIU outscored Stetson 13-5 using screens to set up open shots behind the arc. In the remaining minutes before halftime, however, FIU committed costly turnovers that led to Stetson points. At the half, the Panthers led 41-37.

Stetson’s defense rebounded after a poor first half and changed the pace of the game. The Hatters applied pressure to the Panthers as they brought the ball up the court, forcing more turnovers. These mistakes cost the Panthers their lead (and, arguably, the game) as Stetson scored 20 points off of FIU’s 14 turnovers. With 10:01 left in the game, the teams were tied at 54-54.

As Stetson defenders began to close on FIU shooters faster, Head Coach Anthony Evans adjusted his offensive strategy. In addition to keeping Diaz in for the remainder of the game, he rolled out six-foot-seven sophomore forward Cameron Smith to add size to their front court. Smith occupied an extra Stetson big man on defense and allowed Diaz to attack the Hatters in the lane. The Panthers were able to use this strategy to keep pace with a Hatters offense that was shooting 53.8 percent from the field.

In the game’s final minutes, Stetson challenged Diaz to beat them by fouling him and allowing him to shoot free throws. After working on the skill over the summer, Diaz failed to make a single free throw off multiple attempts in the second half. The Hatters, however, made enough off of sloppy FIU fouls to gain a multiple-possession lead before time expired.

Despite missing critical free throws late, Diaz managed to put together an excellent game. He entered the contest needing two blocks to tie Dwight Stewart (1988-1993) for the school record. He finished the game with six rejections (along with a game-high 26 points and nine rebounds) and became the definitive leader in school blocks (130).

The Panthers will take on their second opponent of their home stand when Elon University takes Lime Court on Friday, Dec. 4 at 7 p.m.

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