A happy Panthers bunch grinned and hugged through the alma mater Thursday night as if not quite ready for the come down usually already embraced by the time this closing credits tune sails.
And why not? In their 66-62 overtime win, they really made two comebacks to win in the kind of game where you usually get only one shot.
Down 38-21 early in the second half, FIU went on a 12-0 run as the Panthers got to Marshall on the defensive perimeter. As Marshall works inside about as well as NASCAR (and, frankly, aren't the most basketball intelligent team at either end), taking away the three turned the Thundering Herd into the Blundering Herd.
Center Adrian Diaz's points (two) matched his fouls (two) in the first half.
"When he's in foul trouble, I try to take him out," FIU coach Anthony Evans said. "Especially if he gets two quickly, we can't afford for him to get the third early because in the second half, I have to play more conservatively. So once he got two, he and Dennis (Mavin), I took them out and we had to ride it until halftime."
Early in the second half, Diaz's fouls edged ahead. Marshall's 6-9 Cheikh Sane threw himself into the part by throwing himself to the floor as Diaz got position for a rebound of a Marshall miss. A Diaz pass deflection launched Mavin to a hoop-and-harm three-point play on a fast break the previous possession. Now visibly roused by the bad call, Diaz blocked Sane the way an older brother blocks a younger one and whipped a pass out to Kris Gulley for another fast break layup.
At the next media timeout, with FIU closed to 38-31, FIU assistant coach Louis Rowe appeared to be telling Diaz to calm down and Diaz seemed to be saying, "I'm all right, I'm all right."
"Dennis was penetrating, getting to the basket," Evans said. "They were going to pay a lot of attention to him. They were downing the ball screen on the side so I thought the best advantage for us was a middle ball screen. Once he started doing that, he was able to penetrate, dish to somebody else, dish to Adrian. So it started to create some havoc with them."
After FIU closed to 38-33, Marshall got together a 9-2 run to go up 47-35 with 11:41 left. Running out of time wasn't so much a concern as running out of mental gas. Pick your sport, teams making big comebacks often have one in them, if that. If they get back into the game, they can ride that positive momentum and energy until either the end or the other team answers. If the other team answers, then you get saggy shoulders, the drained feeling. It's why it took until last weekend for an NFL playoff team to erase two 14-point deficits to win. Marshall had answered.
And the Panthers had something else for The Herd. Mavin ran off eight consecutive FIU points in the middle of a 16-4 FIU run that ended with a Diaz leaner in the lane to put FIU up for the first time all game 51-50.
The Panthers deserved to win. They outsmarted and outgutted Marshall. But they did get two important pieces of zebra help.
Diaz got his fourth foul with 10:16 left in regulation. Apparently, to get his fifth, he would've needed to use weaponry and insult each referee's mama. You can say that's karmic balance for some of the lousy calls on him earlier. Or, you could point to Marshall's laughably pathetic six for 16 from the line -- making FIU's 16 of 27 (59.3 percent) look like a team of Rick Barrys and Steve Alfords -- and 10 for 39 shooting from two-point range to conclude it flat didn't matter.
Also, the Mavin miss that Diaz jammed home for a 63-62 lead with 58 seconds left in overtime, the most important overtime bucket? Mavin didn't just travel on penetration. He ran for a first down.
The final book of game statistics and play-by-play didn't include an official attendance. A second quad set of cabanas now grace the east side of the court, giving the house eight cabanas to not sell. That moved the pep band over to Section A, the Lincoln Road section, while keeping their playlist back in 1967-87. That helped fill in the student section, on the south side. So, there was good noise for the first home game in Originally Sunblazer Arena since America had hope Annie wouldn't be the disaster it was.
"Hopefully, for our game Saturday, they'll all come back," Mavin said.
Just looked this up: last season's official average attendance, 1,474, placed FIU 265th in the nation and earned athletic director Pete Garcia a bonus of approximately $7,613.
This is the track team boarding a bus for their workouts. Behind them sit two of the four massive, parking lot cramping trailers that have something to do with getting FIU Arena ready for Miss Universe. Not sure why the scene struck me as metaphor, but...