Saturday night’s first game at U.S. Century Bank Arena featuring the Sun Belt Conference’s top two scorers got decided largely by No. 2 not scoring and a stretch in which No. 1 didn’t score.
Though the conference’s leading scorer and No. 2 nationally Jerica Coley scored none of FIU’s points in a 16-7 second half run that brought on garbage time in FIU’s 58-42 win, she did all those other little things coaches love to see stars do when they’re not filling the hole.
“The rest of my teammates were doing well scoring, moving the ball, getting layups, getting fouled. I was just trying to do whatever else we needed,” said Coley, who had 14 first half points and 18 for the game.
As FIU’s 27-22 first half lead grew to 43-29 with 11:36 left, Coley had two assists, two rebounds, a block and an out-of-bounds save off a Denver player. Junior forward Finda Mansare took over half the scoring with eight of her 14 points in the run as the Panthers claimed the offensive lane as their turf.
They already had done that in the first half at the defensive end, where Mansare and junior Diamond Ashmore held Denver 5-11 senior forward Kaetlyn Murdoch to two for 10 shooting in the first 20 minutes. It didn’t get much better in the second half for Murdoch, who came into the game averaing 17.0 points per game.
She finished with a double-double, 10 points (on four for 14 shooting) and a game-high 13 rebounds, but when she went strong to the hoop, she kept bumping into the bulk of the 6-2 Ashmore, the 6-1 Mansare or both.
“Diamond did a great job defensivenly,” FIU coach Cindy Russo said. “She had a nice offensive game, but where she was really special was defense. She helped everybody – guards, everybody, got back, she was just amazing. I think that was a turning point in our game.”
After playing a season-high 17 minutes and getting three blocks, Ashmore said, “Instead of thinking about the next play if I messed up, trying to get it back, I just took it one possession at a time.”
Fifth-year senior guard Fanni Hutlassa went down in the first half with what looked like a right ankle injury, but returned to play 25 minutes and score 10 points for FIU.
What a lousy night for senior guard Jeremy Allen to have a career-high 29 points and surpass 1,000 for his college career.
In the first half of schooling FIU 77-63 Saturday night, Denver ran the kind of offense John Wooden used to...when he was a guard at Martinsville High.
Lots of passes, whipped quickly. Little dribbling. Patient. Wait for a slow defensive switch or breakdown...fire. And if you can't grab a rebound, tap it back out to the perimeter, where you've got numbers.
FIU looked ponderous in the first half as Denver proved the ball moves quicker than the feet. Denver worked for its open shots, then hit them while at the other end, FIU moved at Del Boca Vista pace, then missed what open shots it got. No wonder Isiah Thomas went so deep into his bench that, at one moment, FIU had five players on the court who hadn't scored a point...and it was late in the first half.
As home court advantage, The Branch on the surface equates to playing Monopoly with your set instead of your best friend's. Mostly empty small gym. A pep band whose playlist I like and with which the coaches probably are down, but probably not putting the wiggle in a college-aged kid. And the somewhat modern songs with lyrics like "I'm sexy and I know it" are saved for this Somebody-Call-CPS creepiness...
Still, you're at home. You slept in your own bed (or your girlfriend/sex friend/very recent friend's bed). You're dressing in your locker room. You're playing in the gym you practice in every day. You're playing in front of your fellow students, some of whom are fellow athletes. Overdone into comic book-level chest-beating that the whole "This is our house!" thing has been, there's something to it. Just simple pride demands respectable energy, even if you don't play well.
One win at home midway through February defines not getting it done at any level -- player, assistant coaches, head coach. But most nights -- and most days at practice -- all three levels give engaged effort (people who get on coaches who don't yell and scream and emote on the sideline/bench miss the point -- the time where that does any real good, if it's in that coach's persona, is practice). Saturday, FIU got outhustled, badly.
A tough weekend for the softball team, going 0-3 in its first three games of the COMBAT Classic, perhaps got counterbalanced a little bit by Saturday's Diamond Dinner fundraising event for the baseball and softball programs.
A trip to the Major League Baseball All-Star Game went for $4,000 in the live auction. A trip to Duck Key and Hawks Kay went for $4,300. A Chicago sports weekend went for $2,900. Six tickets to the Orange Bowl and the BCS National Championship game with hotel nights went for $7,000. Ticket sales alone to this year's event raised $72,000, so last year's $155,000 event total might be eclipsed.