“It’s college basketball. You go into it, prepare and both teams battle. It was a one-point game last time and they hit a shot to win it this time,” said Head Coach Anthony Evans.
In FIU and FAU’s previous meeting this season, Diaz scored a game-high 23 points while his Panthers crushed the Owls 76-59 in the C-USA opener. This weekend’s game was a far cry from that hopeful beginning of the conference stretch.
FIU would not be able to scratch Rice’s lead in the second half. The Owls gained as much as a 68-45 lead with 11 minutes left to play. The Panthers could not mount a comeback and would not come any closer than from 15 points behind.
What doomed FIU was a 20-7 run in the final 5:36 of the game in which they allowed Johnson to play the hero as he scored 16 points in the final stretch.
“For the most part I felt we were in control as a team,” said McGill. “We stayed in control and didn’t let their defense get to us.”
The Panthers were dominated on the boards: FIU surrendered a season-high 20 offensive rebounds and 22 second chance points. This disappointing effort comes two days after the Charlotte 49ers out-hustled the Panthers as well, redeeming 17 second effort points in the process.
“It’s a learning process. We need to learn to play with the same energy we’ve had all year and have to stay focused. I don’t think we played with energy tonight. I think we came out flat,” said Head Coach Anthony Evans.
FIU was efficient on offense, making 53 percent of their shots from the field and 44 percent from behind the arc. The Panthers’ defense was also excellent, holding the Miners to 41 percent shooting from the field and 33 percent on three pointers.
The Panthers’ fifth-best C-USA scoring offense (75.3 PPG) will face a UTEP defense that ranks fifth in the conference scoring defense (71.2 points allowed per game) and first in defensive field goal percentage (39.3).
The Panthers pulled away in the second half thanks to a surge led by McGill. FIU extended its lead to as much as 17 points with 8:25 left to play in the second half and UTSA was not shooting well enough from three to cut the lead in such a short amount of time.