Will Duval | Sports Director
The FIU men’s basketball team returns home from a three game road trip to take on the LA Tech Bulldogs on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024 in Miami, Florida.
Reaching the end of a winless road trip, the Panthers concluded it with a 79-61 loss to the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders on Saturday, Jan. 27. Their record fell to 7-14 after they lost their eighth away game of the nine played this season.
To open up the game, FIU displayed a competitive edge that allowed them to build an early lead. Halfway through the opening period, they held a 21-13 lead after sophomore guard Jaidon Lipscomb knocked down a 3-pointer.
However, their eight point lead was short lived, as the Blue Raiders weathered the storm and stole a 32-30 lead with 40-seconds remaining in the half.
Providing the team with offensive stability, senior guard Javaunte Hawkins nailed a crucial 3-pointer to secure a lead before entering the break. At halftime, the Panthers held a 33-32 lead following MTSU’s last-minute rally.
Seemingly energized coming out of halftime, FIU battled to protect their lead over the first 10-minutes of the second half. Both teams fought tooth-and-nail until the score sat at 52-51, with the Blue Raiders at a slight disadvantage.
Through the remainder of the game, the Panthers were plagued by defensive lapses and preventable offensive errors. Over the final 10-minutes, they were outscored 27-10 and committed five fouls.
Unable to keep a consistent two-way effort, they took a 79-61 loss to MTSU and finished their three game road trip winless.
Sophomore guard Arturo Dean led FIU in scoring and finished with 16-points on 7-15 shooting. While he was able to score above his season average, he was responsible for eight of the team’s 16-turnovers.
Outside of Dean, sophomore guard Dashon Gittens was their only other double-digit scorer. He finished with 11-points, five rebounds, four steals and made four of his eight shot attempts.
As a team, the Panthers played a completely different brand of basketball in each half. In the first half, they shot 45.16% from the field, whereas they shot 37.04% in the second half.
Beyond their field goal percentage, their 3-point percentage also fell from 38.46% in the first to 20% in the second. They also took a lower volume of both field goals and 3-pointers, proving that their problem isn’t necessarily shot selection.
When all put together, the first half acted as window-dressing for the stat-sheet and held their field goal percentage at a relatively standard number. Over the entire game, FIU shot 41.4% from the field, 30.4% on 3-pointers and went 6-8 at the free-throw line.
Free-throw shooting was a large differentiator for the Blue Raiders, as they went 19-22 from the line and shot 86.4%. In total, they finished 13-points more than the Panthers from the charity stripe.
After unraveling in the second half, FIU looks to turn things around and snap their losing streak in their next game against LA Tech.
Vs. LA Tech:
Entering this matchup, the Bulldogs bolster a 15-6 season record and a 5-1 record against Conference USA opponents.
In the midst of a five game win streak, they’re coming off a blowout 73-53 victory over the New Mexico State Aggies. Showing resilience as a team, they were able to overcome a sub-40% shooting performance.
Displaying a two-way team effort, lockdown defense and an offensive eruption in the second half pushed them to a 20-point victory.
Despite shooting 29.03% from the field in the first half, the Bulldogs held a 33-28 advantage at halftime. Once the second half began, their offense snapped into place, as they shot 48.15% from the field.
Outscoring their opponent 40-25 in the second half, LA Tech’s offensive explosion was maximized by their defensive intensity. Locking down the perimeter, they forced the Aggies into missing all seven of their 3-pointers in the half.
Of their four double-figure scorers, senior forward Isaiah Crawford led the team with 25-points and eight rebounds. Providing them with effort on both ends of the court, five of his eight rebounds came on the offensive end.
Besides just this game, Crawford has been the Bulldogs’ primary option on offense all season long. Over his first 21-games this year, he averages 16-points per game, 5.8-rebounds per game, 2-steals per game and 1.6-blocks per game.
Stuffing the stat-sheet, he has been a consistent anchor on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. However, his contributions aren’t the sole reasons for the team’s success.
While LA Tech may have a statistical hierarchy, they thrive when playing a team game with an emphasis on defense.
This season, they average 75.4-PPG and limit their opponents to an average of 63.2-PPG. Playing suffocating defense, they hold other teams to a 38.6% average field goal percentage and a 32.5% average 3-point percentage.
Going further than just scoring, the Bulldogs also rebound the ball at a high rate, as they average 39.9-RPG. Proving to have a physical style of play, they also make an average of 16.8-free throws per game.
If the Panthers wish to leave this matchup victorious and snap their losing streak, they must not commit unnecessary fouls.
With a large portion of LA Tech’s points coming from the free-throw line, FIU cannot afford to have a repeat performance of their last game. It is nearly impossible for any team to overcome such a large free throw differential.
By sticking to defensive fundamentals and keeping the offense under control, they have the opportunity to snap both their losing streak and the Bulldogs’ win streak.
Returning home from a three game road trip, the FIU men’s basketball team is hosting the LA Tech Bulldogs on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024 in Miami, Florida.
Tip off is set for 7 p.m. at the Ocean Bank Convocation Center and the game will be broadcasted on ESPN+.
Follow Will Duval on X: @WillDuval40