FIU Steals The Show On National Cookie Day Against FGCU

Xavier Green/Contributing Writer

The FIU Panthers (6-3) took on state rival, Florida Gulf Coast University on National Cookie day and came away with a sweet victory. The Panthers had their paws in the cookie jar forcing turnover after turnover against Florida Gulf Coast, living in transition and putting together a fast-paced, open court spectacle for all to see.

“We were able to win today because of our defense, and defense turned into offense for us, and that’s why we were victorious tonight” FIU’s head coach, Jeremy Ballard, had to say about the team coming away with a convincing victory despite having a relatively poor scoring night.

The key to FIU’s defensive success is its full-court press, headed by athletic, long and aggressive defenders such as Devon Andrews and Trejon Jacob. The take no prisoners, aggressive full-court press that was deployed all game sped the game up and forced Florida Gulf Coast’s guards to make quick, rushed decisions that lead to twenty-three turnovers, which is well above their season average of seventeen per game.

When locked in the Panthers are a truly suffocating defensive team. It all starts with the senior center, Osasumwen Osaghae, who locks down the paint averaging four blocks per game (number three in the nation), and is oftentimes asked to switch onto smaller, quicker guards when put into pick and roll situations due to his length and surprising lateral quickness for someone of his size.

In an ever perimeter centric game, FIU has made a conscious effort to limit defensive penetration and force bad jumpers from the outside, causing teams to shoot 28% on three-pointers. Last night FGCU shot a measly 15% from outside which is a little less than half of their season average of 31.3%

In a rather uneventful first half, Trejon Jacob opened the game up with an emphatic baseline dunk which is the first of many exciting highlights the bouncy senior guard had in the game, which includes a fastbreak dunk over a Gulf Coast defender. Fitting that it was against “Dunk City”. Jacob stayed active in passing lanes tallying two steals and being a menace in transition. He left the game with a clear impact on both ends of the court, turning defense into offense.

Although the Panthers lead at the half by thirteen points (score: 34-21), they played a rather unspectacular first half. They were lackadaisical on the defensive boards allowing Gulf Coast to grab an astounding sixteen offensive rebounds in twenty minutes of play, which against a better team would have been a nail in their coffin. FIU also shot the ball poorly, shooting 34% from the field and 28% from behind the arc on 21 attempts from the outside.

“That was something I took personal..I’m a monster, I’m supposed to be getting most of the rebounds, so that was kinda a little personal on me,” said senior center, Osasumwen Osaghae when questioned about the Panthers first-half rebounding struggles.

Osasumwen came out of the locker room with vengeance in his eyes. He looked like a top ten center in college basketball once more, opening the half with three defensive rebounds, an offensive rebound, putback and a three-pointer (his second make of the season and a new, intriguing wrinkle to his game). All within the first three minutes of action. This goes to show when his motor is running hot, there is not a better player in the conference than Osasumwen, or as many affectionately call him, Osasu.

After his hot start, Osasu was pulled in favor of his future replacement, JUCO transfer, Dimon Carrigan, who immediately finished through contact to get a bucket in the paint over two defenders.

Slightly afterward, Florida Gulf Coast exposed a potentially damning weakness in the Panthers armor, when the starters sit the team struggles. At this juncture, some of the players on the court were Dimon Carrigan, Eric Lovett, Tevin Brewer, and Isaiah Banks. Gulf Coast went on a miniature 6-0 run spurred by the center, Justus Rainwater, when he put FIU forward, Dimon Carrigan, in the basket on a powerful dunk. They then forced a turnover that built their total up to four of their six total points on the run that was capped off by Rainwater overpowering the slight of frame Carrigan down low and drawing a foul. (Carrigan’s third of the game)

The Panthers bench is full of cogs in the machine that simply do not work without offensive engines such as Devon Andrews, Osasu Osaghae and Antonio Daye. To keep the machine running at an optimal level one of those three has to be in the game and it is up to coach Ballard to figure out rotations that allow each to get rest while not putting the team at a disadvantage by rolling out a lineup with little creation like that.

Cameron Corcoran played well off the bench hitting a bevy of threes and moving the ball well. Corcoran is one of the team’s best and most efficient basketball players. He is an assassin from deep boasting a career 45.1% 3 three-point percentage., capable of shooting both off the dribble and off the ball, making him a versatile offensive option that can function as the centerpiece of the offense when the starters are out or play alongside them in a more tertiary role. He also has not turned the ball over less than once per game this season, making him one of the Panthers’ best, and safest offensive initiators. 

To finish off his dominant half Osasu, tallied two offensive boards, one ending in him getting fouled on a putback, a strong finish through contact, a deflection and his fourth block of the night. Scoring 14 points, 11 rebounds, and tallied four blocks which match his season average. To have a chance in the conference tournament FIU needs Osasu to play with this level of tenacity from the jump or their season may end in disappointment.

In summary, despite their offensive struggles, the Panthers defense held a middling Florida Gulf Coast team at bay. However, they can not afford to shoot 36% from the field again, because it will surely lead to their demise at the hands of a more capable team.

 

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