LITTLE ROCK, ARKANSAS -- The first FIU basketball season under Panthers coach Isiah Thomas is complete after FIU's 71-64 loss to Denver in the 1st round of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Unlike Al Capone, FIU did not rule Hot Springs, Arkansas this week.
Stayed at Capone's hotel (the Arlington) in Hot Springs on Saturday night. Spending Sunday here in Little Rock, because there were no flights available to Fort Lauderdale one day before my scheduled departure on Monday.
Was expecting the FIU men and women's hoops teams to win their 1st round games and that's why the Monday flight was booked out of Arkansas.
But neither team escaped the 1st round. The FIU men's team pretty much had little shot of winning their 1st round game after leading scorer Marvin Roberts was suspended for violation of team rules. Of course, it didn't help either that starting power forward J.C. Otero was out with a torn knee.
It was a missed opportunity for FIU late Saturday night (10:50 p.m. tipoff), because in the coming years, Denver will not belong on the same court as FIU. The Pioneers have no size, no athleticism and very little defense, but FIU with its shorthanded roster had very little of those qualities as well on Saturday.
Here's how bad it got for FIU on Saturday: 5-10 point guard Phil Gary was playing center at one point in the game. Still, Gary (left, thanks Alex J. Hernandez photo) scored a game-high 23 points. Shooting guards Tremayne Russell and Stephon Weaver were playing power forward.
Despite all the disadvantages, the Panthers hung with the Pioneers until late when Denver went on an 11-4 run to build a 9-point lead.
It should all get better for FIU next season with the No. 17-ranked signing class in the country taking to the court in October for preseason practice. The arrivals of forwards Dominique Ferguson and Eric Frederick, shooting guard Richaud Pack (the nation's leading high school scorer) and point guard Phil Taylor in addition to the returns of Phil Gary, Roberts, Russell, Weaver, Nikola Gacesa and others should see an improved FIU team.
Looking back on this season and looking forward to next season, IT had this to say in the postgame press conference on Saturday:
"I’m proud of the foundation this team has laid. They did a good job in establishing the type of identity we want to play with in the future. They never quit. I told them in the locker room: unfortunately sometimes the people that are responsible for building the house and laying the foundation they never get a chance to live in the house. But what they are able to do is drive the kids by the house and take their friends by the house and say hey we built this. This group of young men their job was to do the dirty work and they did the dirty work. They got a lot of mud on their shoes and a lot of blood under their fingernails. We appreciate the work that they did and how hard they played."
FIU BASEBALL WON'T GO 61-1
After their first loss of the season on Friday, we learned FIU baseball won't go 62-0. On Sunday night in Surprise, Arizona, the Panthers loss to Arizona State 4-1 in 7 innings.
The game was delayed after 7 innings, because of rain and once the tarp went on the field the Texas Rangers -- who play their spring training games at the Surprise stadium -- ordered that the tarp not be removed regardless if the rain stopped. So the umpires called the game after 7 innings, despite the rain stopping. I was never a fan of the show: Walker -- Texas Ranger, anyway.
FIU went 2-2 on their Arizona trip which is not too shabby considering the competition the Panthers faced in the Coca Cola Classic. FIU is now 9-2 on the season.
The Panthers return to Miami to open a 5-game homestand with 2 games against Boston College starting Tuesday and then a 3-game weekend series against Rutgers.
LIVE BASEBALL BLOG starts at 5:56 p.m. Tuesday.
THE CHILI IS SMOKIN'
The FIU media relations department filled in for me during this weekend's spring practices while yours truly was in Arkansas and from the reports new defensive coordinator Geoff Collins has made an impact with his new defensive unit.
From the story from FIU media relations.....It all starts with Collins (right, thanks Roy Viera photo). When quarterback Wayne Younger aimed for the sideline to throw a pass away Friday, Collins knocked it down. After the ball hit the turf, linebackers Larvez Mars and Markeith Russell motioned for Collins to drop and give them 10 push-ups. That's exactly what Collins did.
``He's just as much into it as we are,'' linebacker Toronto Smith said. ``I think, in the game, if we catch an interception, that he'll run down the sideline with us. We might get a flag, but it's worth it. I love the energy that he brings to the defense.''
Good to hear defensive end Jonathan Jackson (left, thanks AJH photo) got into the backfield to tackle running back Jeremiah Harden for a tackle for loss in Sunday morning's practice. It's been a while since JJ and his injured feet have been on the field.
Next practice is Tuesday at 3:45 p.m.
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