An actual crowd filled the lower bowl of U.S. Century Bank Arena for Thursday's men's basketball game against North Texas. The official attendance was 1,109. I guess free pizza made free admission look extra attractive. If that wouldn't have worked, the next stop is free beer and singing frogs.
A mere sprinkling of fans for this game would've turned somebody's Friday into a Monday. President Mark Rosenberg and his wife were among those in the seats, and I've heard the weak basketball attendance this season had been a concern to the Prez. To an alumni group earlier this week, I heard he presented poor football attendance as a reason for booting former head coach Mario Cristobal.
As I've stated before on this blog, even unto a year ago, attendance falls under the responsibility of the athletic director. Or, in this case, the executive director of sports and entertainment. Anyway, it was the first home crowd of the season officially over 1,000. I think free pizza also could be offered for Saturday's doubleheader against Louisiana-Lafayette.
By the way, if you were in the stands, you had just as many points as North Texas' sophomore forward Tony MItchell, one of the nation's most talented players. Mitchell's previous scoring low was three points. FIU did a good defensive job on Mitchell, playing a 2-3 zone and double-teaming him while playing a zone with the other three players. Mitchell also seemed frustrated and, eventually, simply not a part of the North Texas offense.
FIU senior guard Cameron Bell got his first start of the season Thursday in his fifth game of the season. Bell, who started at point instead of Deric Hill or Gaby Belardo, spent the first month and a half of the season coming back from a shoulder injury.
Bell played 27 minutes, went four of 14 from the field and grabbed six rebounds and a game-high four steals. He sank a couple of key free throws down the stretch as FIU nursed what a lead that once stood at 18 points to the final horn. Those free throws helped provide the buffer for his fouling North Texas' Niko Stojilijkovic on a three-pointer with 29 seconds left and FIU up 67-59. Stojilijkovic sank all three free throws. That was a play high in FIU coach Richard Pitino's mind when he said the Panthers needed to be "smarter" in closing out games.
"I don't think we have a pure point guard," Pitino said in explaining starting Bell at the point. "Teams are pressuring our point guard. And we've had what I call a lot of "live ball" turnovers. It's not so much anything Deric or Gaby did. We're just trying to figure it out. None of these guys have played together. Cam Bell just gets back. I wanted to give it a different look and see how it looked."
As for how Bell played, "I think he was good. I expect a lot more from him. Mentally, not as good as I hoped it would've been. But he gave us a good effort. Only turned the ball over one time in 27 minutes, so that was good."
North Texas coach Tony Benford said he wouldn't mind having some of FIU's guards -- and he wasn't kidding. Not only did Benford say the Mean Green were down to two true guards, but he got a call from FIU guard Malik Smith's junior college coach last year. Benford said he liked Smith, but couldn't find a scholarship for him.
Folks, pick a name and stick with it. I've started checking IP addresses on posts. I'll do so every couple of days. Double posts under various names means all posts under all names get deleted. For the last several days, I've only eliminated the postings under the second name.