Lack of size killed both FIU basketball teams Thursday night against Middle Tennessee State teams that came in with a combined two Sun Belt losses.
In the women's case, injuries struck. Already down guard Kamika Idom, who gives head coach Cindy Russo options when she wants to rest or yank Carmen Miloglav, the Panthers came in without 6-3 Diamond Ashmore (dislocated patella) and 6-1 Finda Mansare (concussion). That's not who you need missing against 6-1 Ebony Rowe and 6-1 Icelyn Elie. Also, while Rowe and Elie have the lengthy limbs coaches in all sports love to see for defensive purposes, Ashmore and Mansare bring more athletic bulk. As physical as Thursday's game was, that kind of size mattered.
In December, Mansare played 40 minutes and Ashmore played 18. They combined for 10 defensive rebounds. FIU outscored Middle Tennessee in the paint 30-28. Rowe went seven of 14 from the field and put in 19 points, but Elie was one for six and never went to the line.
Thursday, Rowe and Elie ran wild: 11 for 16 and five for nine, respectively, from the field and scored a combined 35 points. Middle outscored FIU in the paint 36-18. Thus the 61-51 FIU loss.
Russo said she expects Ashmore and Mansare back this season, but Idom could be done for the year.
The men's team, after a beautifully played first half in which they were up 36-16 and left up 36-19, got outhustled and outsmarted in the second half before size became a factor for them.
When a team up big against a still-playing opponent starts being a half-step slow to a few loose ball rebounds, leaving guys open for big shots and throwing away offensive possessions, only the clock can save them. And FIU fell 3:15 short of that. Two free throws by Marcos Knight after 5-9 Deric Hill inexplicably jumped to block in transition defense instead of maintaining position to take the charge -- as the old saying goes, as useless as a blind man turning to look -- tied the game 59-59.
At the end, however, as FIU coach Rick Pitino said afterwards, they knew what was coming and they weren't big enough or athletic enough to stop it. Middle's Shawn Jones, a Hialeah High guy, rose up and smote the Panthers a death blow.
As reports tumble toward me of abysmal academic performance from several members of the football team that could strip the team like an Escalade left in Overtown, one academic bright spot for the athletic department comes from basketball junior guard Jerica Coley.
Coley was named to the Capital One Academic All-District 4 Women's Basketball Team. Coley carries a 3.34 GPA as a dietetics and nutrition major. She wants to work as a nutritionist in a hospital after getting her masters and, maybe, some pro ball.
I asked Coley what her mother thought of the http://www.HolyColey.com website, launched Tuesday.
"I think she's on it every day," Coley said with about as much of a smile as she could manage after Thursday's loss.