By Steven Melendez/Staff Writer
The FIU men’s basketball team faced off against the 2017 Final Four participant South Carolina Gamecocks and was defeated 78-61 Monday night at the Ocean Bank Convocation Center. Junior forward Eric Lockett led the Panthers with 21 points, five rebounds and three assists.
South Carolina got off to a 9-0 run to start the game, overwhelming FIU with pressure defense and getting easy baskets at the rim, including multiple dunks. FIU found themselves down 22-13 half way through the first half, but then the momentum shifted as the Panthers went on an 18-1 run.
Trejon Jacob started the run with three straight field goals including a three-pointer for all seven of his first half points to get the momentum back on FIU’s side. Brian Beard Jr. would then get fouled while making a three-pointer to tie the game and eventually take the lead 23-22 after making the free throw. FIU biggest lead was eight when they took a 31-23 lead over the Gamecocks.
Before the half, South Carolina went on a 15-5 run, which was capped by a three-pointer by former Florida Atlantic guard Frank Booker to take a 38-36 lead into the second half. FIU shot 50% from the field, while South Carolina shot 57.7%.
Coach Anthony Evans explained that the team played with ton of emotion and also key mistakes resulted in the team’s loss.
“I saw fight. They fought the whole time,” said Coach Evans. “We made some mistakes and they were able to get back into it, but we’re always going to fight till the end.”
The start of the second half was worse than the first as the Gamecocks opened the game up with a 21-2 run. Three-pointers from Justin Minaya and Booker spread the FIU defense, which allowed Chris Silva to have his way with the FIU defense. He finished with a season-high 26 points on 77% shooting (10-for-13).
Despite the heavy deficit in the second half the Panthers were able to show fight once again as they brought the lead down to 10. FIU continued to pressure South Carolina into mistakes, while Lockett made consecutive field goals to surge FIU’s run. Lockett also contributed with three steals and three blocks. He spoke about his team’s ability to keep coming back into games against one of the best teams in the country.
“Basketball is a game of runs and we know there’s always a chance to get down, but we always got to fight,” said Lockett. “It was still early on in the game, so we had plenty of time to come back.”
Willy Nunez Jr. made his debut off the bench for FIU after recovering from preseason surgery and he had a decent start to his Panther career. He was the best contributor off the bench with seven points, but he shot just 33% from the field (3-for-9) to go with two rebounds and two steals. He definitely offers another scoring option that can also provide good defense.
The Panthers continue their three game home stand, as they take on the Florida National Conquistadors on Wednesday, November 29 at 7:00 p.m. at the Ocean Bank Convocation Center. They will then take on South Alabama on Saturday, December 2 at 1:00 p.m. to conclude their home stand