Men’s basketball looks to reclaim momentum vs. LIU

Sophomore guard Arturo Dean preparing to shoot a free throw. Photo courtesy of FIU Athletics.

Pablo Hernandez | Assistant Sports Director 

The FIU men’s basketball team is looking to bounce back and is taking on the Long Island Sharks on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023 in Miami, Florida.

Entering their final game of a three game homestand, the Panthers are coming off a  

68-65 loss to the FGCU Eagles on Wednesday, Nov. 29. The defeat lowered their season record to 2-7 and put them in last place in the Conference USA standings.

Despite a record-breaking defensive performance from sophomore guard Arturo Dean, the team was unable to walk out with a win.

Vs. FGCU:

For the majority of the first half, FIU controlled the speed and tempo of the game. From opening-tip, they unleashed a two-way attack on the Eagles.

Dean led the team on the defensive side of the ball, as he accumulated nine steals in the first half alone and broke the team’s record for the most steals in a half of play.

Offensively, senior guard Javaunte Hawkins led the team in 3-pointers made, connecting on three prior to halftime. He finished the game with four 3-pointers on 10-attempts by the night’s conclusion.

By halftime, the Panthers carved out a 44-29 lead after they stunned FGCU in the first half.

However, their 15-point lead wouldn’t last for the remainder of the game, as it was brought to single-digits five minutes into the second half. The Eagles were beginning to find an offensive rhythm while their opponent couldn’t recapture their momentum.

Senior guard Isaiah Thompson scored five consecutive points and brought the score to 53-45. After he made back-to-back free throws, he knocked down a 3-pointer on the following possession to bring the score within eight-points.

Within a two-minute span, FGCU went on a 9-1 scoring run and tied the game at 54-54. 

Near the 11:35 marker, senior forward Keeshawn Kellman rebounded his own miss and was fouled on his putback attempt. At the free throw line, he made both of his two attempts and tied the game for the first time since the score was 0-0.

All of the game’s momentum had shifted towards the Eagles and they were taking full advantage of the situation. They went on to hit two consecutive 3-pointers and claimed a 62-56 lead.

Following a three-minute scoring drought from both teams, FIU was unable to climb out of the hole they had dug themselves into. Despite a last-second basket from sophomore guard Jayden Brewer, it wasn’t enough to win the game.

Losing the game 68-65, they played two fundamentally different halves of basketball. 

In the first half, their defense and offense fed into each other, as their steals often resulted in fastbreak points. The second half saw the reverse from the Panthers, as they were only able to score 21-points, a fraction of their total from the first.

While unable to leave the game victorious, Dean still managed to finish with a double-double. His 13-points and 10-steals set a new program record for steals in a single-game.

Taking what they can from the loss, FIU is taking on the LIU Sharks in their next game.

Vs. LIU:

Heading into their matchup against the Panthers, LIU holds a 1-5 record after taking a 72-64 loss to the Northern Kentucky Norse on Saturday, Nov. 25. In that game, neither team could build a significant lead until the end of the game, where the Norse escaped with a win.

At halftime, they held a 34-28 lead and made four of their eight 3-point attempts. While shooting above 50% in every category, they still couldn’t claim a lead that was larger than six-points.

Graduate student guard Tai Strickland led the team’s offense, as he finished with 18-points and connected on seven of his 13 shots. 

Outside of him, freshman guard Eric Acker has been the commander of their offense this season. He averages 14.2 points per game and shoots 47% from the field.

Beyond that individual matchup, the Sharks have struggled to keep up with the scoring of their opponents all season long. They allow 77.5 points per game and have a -12.2 average scoring margin this year.

According to their statistics, they have a negative margin of differential in nearly every major statistical category. The only place where they have beaten their opponents is in 3-point shooting, as they shoot 33.3% from beyond-the-arc.

With a win in this matchup, head coach Jeremy Ballard would make history and become the winningest coach in the history of FIU basketball. He currently holds a 79-86 over his tenure with the program.

If the Panthers wish to leave the game victorious, they have to remain consistent across the course of an entire game. Not allowing LIU to make 3-point shots will be the key to a victory, as it’s the only statistical category they beat their opponents in.

Through their early season struggles, FIU still ranks second in steals across the NCAA and average 12.6 per game. Many of their steals go through the active hands of Dean, as he leads the nation with a 4.2 steals per game average.

Besides when stealing the ball, they still struggle to stop opposing teams from scoring. They rank last in CUSA in points per game allowed with 77.4 and only score 71.8 per game themselves.

As both teams allow about the same amount of points, offensive efficiency will be at the forefront of this matchup. Whichever team spaces the floor most effectively will emerge victorious.

Looking to improve upon their record, the FIU men’s basketball team is taking on the LIU Sharks on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023 in Miami, Florida.

Tip off is set for 6 p.m. at the Ocean Bank Convocation Center and the game will be broadcasted on ESPN+.

Prediction:

FIU: 71

LIU: 62

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