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Putting the Eagles on the Last Train to the Gulf Coast

Do we need more evidence that FIU needs to schedule Saturday afternoon basketball games much more regularly and not just when ordered to do so by television?

The Branch bounced Saturday afternoon throughout the fiesty 72-61 FIU win against Florida Gulf Coast. Right from the start, noise and fair insults blared from the student section, often so sullen during Saturday night games. They even got into the silly, fun Fathead race. Only seven percent of FIU students live in campus housing. I never understood why FIU expected a bunch of 18-to-22-year-olds to schlep out to Camp Mitch for a 7 p.m. game. Even leaving for home at 9, home by 9:30 or 10, that's too much activity too close to prep time for The Club or That Party. Get them to come in the afternoon and they can kill a couple of hours, be back home for a half-stepped dinner in the early evening and still have enough chill time before getting social.

There seemed to be more kids, also, which makes sense. I know to way too many Miami parents Saturday night means "bring the kids and the strollers because there's no bedtime for our little Bonzos!" But the rest of us want our younger kids in bed before 9 or 9:30. Or, we would like our Saturday nights to involve fewer kids and more caipirinhas. Grown Folks Time. We do stuff with the kids -- like take them to a basketball game -- in the morning or afternoon.

Anyway, there actually were a few times an adjacent person trying to talk to me couldn't do so for all the noise. Nice, that.

Early on, FIU barely could contain themselves in attacking Gulf Coast through the one-on-one matchups at the offensive end. There weren't many openings created by movement of player or ball. Unless, that is, it was the player with the ball darting, spinning, trying to go over his defender. I asked Rakeem Buckles, who had two what looked like overanxious travels early, if this was a matter of FIU just feeling they had such an advantage in those matchups. Buckles said, "The last couple of games, we were going against a lot of zone, so we were just excited to see a team run (man-to-man). We just knew we had the opportunity to take our man."

Buckles helped take Gulf Coast 6-9 starter Filip Cvjeticanin out of the game. Cvjeticanin came in hitting three-pointers at 50 percent and leading the Atlantic Sun Conference in number of threes. That range opens the driving lanes. His height creates matchup problems.

On an early Gulf Coast possession, one of Buckles' waving hands caught Filip in the face just before Filip misfired on a pass. Filip touched his face, then looked in disbelief at the nearby referee who somehow missed the call (maybe the zebra was thinking it must be a hassle sitting in the lifeguard chair unless you've got a brahma-sized bladder). When the same thing happened five minutes later, with 13:02 left in the first half, Buckles got called for the foul. Filip pump-faked a close-range two-handed pass at Buckles' head. That drew a technical foul. Buckles turned to walk away as teammates grabbed Filip.

No. 1, Filip gets scored as "Stoopid" because they were calling the foul. I could understand if Buckles got away with it both times, but Filip got the call. No. 2, I understand life in Croatia during Filip's childhood likely wasn't cereal and cartoons on Saturday morning. But Buckles is out of Liberty City by way of Opa-Locka. If you're going to try to intimidate or back off somebody with by faking some Mike Rice stuff, pick somebody with a more sedate background than Liberty City and Opa-Locka.

FIU's Jason Boswell hit both free throws. Filip had a seat. Gulf Coast coach Joe Dooley should've left him there. His mind wasn't right. In the second half, Filip committed a turnover, then fouled Tymell Murphy in transition (two made free throws); missed three of four shots; after one miss, fouled Murphy on a layup (old fashioned three-point play); then later committed a turnover that Dennis Mavin turned into a layup and 68-58 lead. Filip wound up playing only 19 minutes, 7.7 minutes below his average; going one for five from the field with four turnovers and four fouls. Considering how close the game was until it turned into an FIU Free Throw Challenge, that ineptitude could've cost Gulf Coast the game.

Murphy kept being Mr. Positive throughout the six minutes Gulf Coast, which has three starters back from last year's Sweet Sixteen team, dominated in the second half.

"They just made some runs," Murphy said. "I didn't want anybody to lay their heads down. There was still a lot of time left. I tried to tell them, it's OK. We've just  got to clamp down on defense. I tried to keep clapping, keep showing that even though they were winning by 7 or however they were up by, it was all right. We were going to make our run, too."

FIU coach Anthony Evans said, "He said in the huddle, 'Coach, I'm going to step up to the challenge.' And he did that at both ends of the floor. He's not the guy who we put on one of their best players. We normally put Dennis on him. But they had multiple people who can penetrate, attack the basket."

One of those people, Brett Comer, saw his layup attempt rejected so strongly by Murphy, it got a ticket on the Turnpike. That came in the middle of the 9-0 run that turned the game to FIU. You could actually feel the crowd at an FIU game.

Good feeling. It's a shame they're off for two weeks before playing Louisville.

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