FIU men’s basketball needs an ignition victory like the gatekeeper needs the keymaster. Chance No. 1 for that comes Monday night against George Mason at Virginia Tech, the start of the Dick’s Sporting Goods NIT Tip-Off (9:30 p.m., ESPN3).
George Mason opened a 15-poit favorite, now down to 14 or 13.5 most places. Their point guard, Andre Cornelius, has been suspended for the first 10 games of the season after pleading guilty to misdemeanor credit card fraud. The Patriots finished 27-7, 16-2 in Colonial Athletic Association last season George Mason threw up some major league masonry, two of 14 from three-point range, while beating Rhode Island 92-90 Friday night in overtime. That’s one more game in which to start working out the kinks and getting to know themselves under new coach Paul Hewitt, who spent 11 years at Georgia Tech.
“A big opportunity for us,” senior Jeremy Allen said. “Not many people get the chance to play on that big stage. It comes with a lot of responsibility. We need to be mature about it.”
Fellow senior DeJuan Wright said of his younger bretheren, “They’re mature young guys, so they should be able to handle it.”
The young player from which the most will be expected is 6-7 sophomore Dominique Ferguson, who joined FIU midseason. Ferguson said he felt apart from everything all season because he wasn’t allowed to join the team, even in conditioning workouts, until December. Still, he blocked 30 shots in 20 games.
“That’s just instinct,” he said. “I’ve always blocked shots.”
Nobody’s worried about FIU’s offense…
“We move the ball around,” Ferguson said. “We don’t have any selfish people. We don’t have anybody that’s going for their own thing. If anything, we’ve got people who are passing up shots. That’s the only negative.”
…it’s the defense that’ll make the difference between set the pace and create an identity, if this team is to find one. And they’ll start finding out who they are and where they are tonight in Blacksburg, Virginia.
T.Y. Hilton's 97-yard punt return Saturday night earned him Sun Belt Special Teams Player of the Week, his third player of the week award for the season and the seventh of his career. The record is nine, held by current Buffalo Bills cornerback and former Troy defensive back Leodis McKelvin.
FIU will look for a medical redshirt for senior safety Chuck Grace. Also out for the rest of the season with a sprained knee is long snapper Mitch McCluggage.
As for who'll start at quarterback between Wesley Carroll and Jake Medlock Saturday at Louisiana-Monroe, Mario Cristobal insisted it was still an open competition. But Medlock goes into this week with the edge.
"To keep it fair, yeah, they'll both get plenty of reps in practice," Cristobal said. "Jake will go in as the starter."
By the way, I'm not much for playing Bowl Bingo, but we can play that later today if you folks want. The one bowl that was a possibility that's definitely out now is The New Orleans Bowl, which will have Sun Belt champion Arkansas State.
FIU, host of this week's Sun Belt Conference Volleyball Championship, will start as the No. 4 seed and face No. 5 seed Denver at 7:30 Thursday at U.S. Century Bank Arena.The winner will face Western Kentucky. Technically, the winner will face the winner of No. 1 seed Western Kentucky, 15-1 in the Sun Belt, vs. No. 8 Troy.