Jaymz Cosme | Staff Writer
The FIU’s men’s basketball team is set for their final matchup of 2023 and are traveling west to face the Utah Tech Trailblazers on Saturday, Dec. 30, 2023 in St. George, Utah.
Entering this matchup, the Panthers hold a 5-9 record after claiming a bounce back win over the Maine Black Bears on Thursday, Dec. 21, 2023. They were able to take a 82-74 home victory after they struggled to find separation in the first half.
Despite trailing 36-35 at halftime, FIU orchestrated a second-half surge that turned the tide of the game in their favor.
Midway through the fourth quarter, junior guard Jaidon Lipscomb connected on a 3-pointer and caused a shift in the team’s momentum. Subsequently, FIU’s defense intensified, with sophomore guard Arturo Dean getting three consecutive steals in the backcourt.
Exploiting all of Maine’s miscues, the Panthers were able to turn all of their opponent’s errors into points at the other end. They established a commanding 53-45 lead with 12:47 remaining in the game. and maintaining control until the game’s conclusion.
Earning a start in this game, senior guard Javaunte Hawkins led the team in scoring with 20-points in a season-high 31-minutes. Making the most of the opportunity, he converted on seven of his 14 shot attempts.
Dean also made a significant offensive contribution and added 14-points and six rebounds. Despite his 5-11 frame, he crashed the offensive glass and grabbed three offensive rebounds in the game.
Outside of their two leading scorers, FIU received production from multiple players in an all-around team victory.
Junior guard George Pridgett Jr. had a season-high 12-points and connected on three 3-pointers. Lipscomb added 11-points and knocked down a crucial 3-pointer to give the team an eight point lead with 2:14 remaining.
As a team, the Panthers outscored the Black Bears 47-38 in the second half and showed their ability to overcome adversity. This victory marked both their fifth win of the season and their first win in program history over Maine.
After finding offensive consistency in the second half, they look to carry their newfound momentum into their matchup against the Utah Tech Trailblazers on Dec. 30.
Vs. Utah Tech:
Coming into this matchup, Utah Tech holds a 5-7 record and is coming off a 98-71 loss against the Colorado Buffaloes on Dec. 21. In that game, they committed a large volume of fouls and lost the rebounding battle by a substantial margin.
In the first half alone, the Trailblazers were outscored 46-25 and shot 35.48% from the field. They also missed all seven of their 3-pointers while allowing their opponent to make five in the half.
Following a 21-point deficit at halftime, they were unable to stake any form of a comeback run and took a 98-71 loss.
All night long, Utah Tech struggled to rebound the ball and were outrebounded 44-21. Beyond their rebounding struggles, they also committed 20-fouls, which resulted in 25-free-throw attempts.
Junior guard Noa Gonsalves and freshman guard Aric Demings were tied for the most points on the team, with each contributing 14-points in the game. Between both of them, they combined to make three 3-pointers on eight attempts.
If FIU wishes to leave this matchup victorious, they must not let any individual opposing player find an offensive rhythm.
Utah Tech thrives on a balanced offensive approach, as most of their key contributors average around 10-points per game. Through rugged defensive play, they average 14.1-turnovers per game, but their efforts are often squashed by their 14.6-TOPG average.
Forcing the Trailblazers into sloppy turnovers and taking care of the ball offensively will be the Panthers’ keys to leaving this game with a win. Outside of ball security, they also need to commit to their offensive game plan and take efficient shots.
Lipscomb has emerged as a consistent offensive option over his last four games, scoring in double digits and sinking 16-3-pointers during that span. His outside shooting and ball handling abilities creates a large amount of spacing while he’s in the game.
Dean continues to be the linchpin for FIU, leading the team in scoring, rebounds, assists, and steals. His impressive 3.9-steals per game and a total of 55-steals rank him as the NCAA statistical national leader in steals this season.
Through playing pesky defense and sharp offense, the Panthers have the opportunity to secure their final win of 2023.
Attempting to head into the new year with a victory, FIU heads west to face the Utah Tech Trailblazers on Saturday, Dec. 30, 2023 in St. George, Utah.
Tip off is set for 5 p.m. at the Burns Arena and the game will be streamed on ESPN+.
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