Alejandro Aguirre/ Sports Director
For the first time this season Adrian Diaz, The Hialeah Hammer, was not in the starting lineup on Saturday, Feb. 13, victory over the University of Texas at San Antonio. The senior center came off the bench for the first time in his FIU playing career. Even with the team’s leading rebounder coming off the bench, the Panthers were able to win 79-65 and end a five game losing streak. This new lineup without Diaz had its lack of size, but Head Coach Anthony Evans used this move as more of a morale boost than a strategic game plan.
“It was something I wanted to do,” Evans said. “You try to coach and motivate in different ways. I thought that he can give us a little bit more.”
The Panthers were able to control the tempo of the game even when UTSA was playing a full court press defense and a man-to-man coverage. Even with the roadrunners’ aggressive defense, point guard Donte McGill was able to slice through the defense and lead the Panthers’ offense with 20 points.
“For the most part I felt we were in control as a team,” said McGill. “We stayed in control and didn’t let their defense get to us.”
On both sides of the ball the Panthers were scoring consistently and defending at a high rate. They shot 57.7 percent from the field and had a balanced scoring night by making 15 shots in the first and second half. Their biggest lead in the first half was nine points, but the only time the defense slipped up was when UTSA finished the half on a 13-4 run. This would end the first half with both teams tied up with 32 points.
In the first half, senior forward Daviyon Draper got off to a quick start offensively and ultimately played the entire 40 minute game. Draper was ready for that game knowing that Diaz, who averages the same amount of points per game as Draper, was not going to be starting.
“We still keep the same team concept. We probably had to rebound and focus on rebounding a little more and protecting the paint,” said Draper.
Draper did pick up the rebounding slack as he finished with seven rebounds which were second on the team behind Diaz’s nine boards. He complimented his effort on the boards with scoring 18 points.
In the second half, the Panther’s offense shined. They took a 39-36 lead early in the second half and for the remaining 17 minutes of the game, FIU never gave up the lead and had a double digit lead. The highest lead they had was 17 points thanks to Adrian Diaz playing the majority of the second half. Diaz finished off with 17 points and nine rebounds and in limited minutes he was still almost able to pull off a double- double.
This Conference USA win puts FIU one game under .500 in their conference record and keeps them in the middle of the pack in the standings. The Panthers have the opportunity to still move up in the standings with five games left in the season. Head coach Anthony Evans stressed the importance of the upcoming three game road trip.
“Keep doing what we did yesterday in practice. Just keep working hard. It’s a good team but that doesn’t equal wins if you don’t put the work into it. We have to put the work in consistently,” said Evans.
Following this win, the Panthers will travel back to Texas for the second time this season, where they will face North Texas on Thursday, Feb. 18 and Rice on Saturday, Feb. 20. From there they will wrap up the regular season with two games at home. The final home games will be on Thursday, March 3 at 7 p.m. to face UAB, before taking on Middle Tennessee on Saturday, March 5 at 6 p.m. to close out the regular season.