David Drucker/ Staff Writer
No team in Conference USA has marched into Don Haskins Center in the new year and defeated the Miners on their home court, but on Saturday, Jan. 22, the Panthers will try to become the first. Florida International University (10-9, 4-2 in C-USA) is slated for a 9:05 p.m. matchup with the University of Texas at El Paso Miners in their last leg of a Lone Star state road trip, and the result could be a good read into whether or not this year’s Panthers are for real.
FIU has three clear threats on offense going into this matchup: junior guard Donte McGill (17.0 PPG), senior center Adrian Diaz (15.5 PPG) and senior forward Daviyon Draper (14.3 PPG). All three players are capable of taking over a game, but Diaz has trouble staying on the floor because he often lands in foul trouble early on. The Panthers’ fifth-best C-USA scoring offense (75.3 PPG) will face a UTEP defense that ranks fifth in the conference scoring defense (71.2 points allowed per game) and first in defensive field goal percentage (39.3).
UTEP enters the game with five players averaging double figures in points. Leading them is junior guard Lee Moore (13.5 PPG), who has showcased his talents in El Paso this season after two standout years at Wallace State Community College. Although their offense relies primarily on maximizing touches to find the best possible shot, they also have talented players who can create on their own and take over. In their last time out, sophomore guard Omega Harris scored 11 of his 19 points in the first six and a half minutes of the game.
The Miners are coming off of a relieving 71-56 win over the Florida Atlantic University Owls. UTEP had plenty of frustration to release after skidding to a three-game conference losing streak following a 2-0 start in C-USA. They took it all out on the Owls, ripping off a 15-0 from the jump and dominating them the entire game.
In FIU’s last time out, they defeated the University of Texas at San Antonio Roadrunners in a 72-56 rout. FIU’s defense performed well, holding UTSA to 33% shooting from the field and 15% on three pointers. On offense, McGill scored 23 points on 50% shooting and Draper grabbed five offensive rebounds as the Panthers easily pulled away in the second half.
Although the Miners are fierce at home (6-3 overall, 3-0 in C-USA), they are prone to the occasional upset against inferior C-USA competition, such as when the UTSA claimed their fourth win of the season against them on Jan. 16 in a 71-67 decision. FIU shares this grief with UTEP; the Panthers’ also dropped a game they were expected to win two contests ago to the University of Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles.
As far as consistency goes for FIU, Head Coach Anthony Evans has said that he is most concerned about the effort he gets night-to-night from his team. He has expressed that a lack of effort was to blame for the disappointing loss to Southern Mississippi at home last week. The Panthers have been on the road since early Wednesday morning, so the amount of energy that they will come out with on Saturday night is uncertain.
What is for certain, however, is that nobody on this FIU team wants to head back to Lime Court a .500 team again.