You know that feeling Thursday when the State of Florida finally got the Florida Lottery website working again, you looked at the numbers and you had nothing? Or, maybe just a free ticket?
That's how the FIU basketballers of each gender left Western Kentucky feeling Thursday.
Up in Bowling Green (the one in Kentucky), the Panthers came from 10 down in the second half to win 75-72. The women hung tough for the full 40 against the best team in Conference USA, one with a 17-2 conference record over the last two seasons and 10-2 overall this season. In the end, some panicky possessions and key rebounds got away from the Panthers, as did a chance for the biggest upset in college women's basketball this season. Still, the 71-69 loss that left FIU 2-11 and 0-2 in conference play didn't leave Chinn upset.
"Our ladies really executed the game plan for us tonight. I couldn't be more proud of their effort to come up against the conference champs," he said. "They've got a really nice club. (Western coach) Michelle (Clark-Heard) does an awesome job with her team. For them to come out and give their best effort was really exciting to see. We had told them prior to the game, we just want to measure up. We want to see what the best team in the conference has and see where we stand. Give our best effort and see what happens."
What happened: FIU, down 33-23 and on the verge of being blown out with 5:37 left in the first half, stormed back behind defense and 5-9 junior Tianah Alvarado. Alvarado scored the next 14 FIU points. That got the game tied 37-37 at halftime because FIU stopped letting Western run layup drills after Chinn called a timeout at the aforementioned 33-23 and 5:37 left. After what looked like a strong excoriation, FIU, which had allowed Western to shoot 60 percent before the timeout, held the Hilltoppers to two of eight from the field the rest of the half.
The second half saw the teams trade baskets evenly, until a few ragged FIU possessions and a few too many offensive rebounds by Western did in FIU. Say this for the Panthers -- despite their record over the last two seasons, they never look intimidated. They've got the confidence actor William Talman injected into Hamilton Burger, the prosecutor who used to get undone by Perry Mason. One person on the show loved Talman's performance because you believed Burger deeply believed he'd win that week.
"We're right there, we're missing one little thing," FIU senior forward Janka Hegedus said after a game-high 22 points on 11 of 14 shooting.
"They're so hungry to get a win," Chinn said. "And they want it really bad. We've just come up short. We've got to learn how to win. Obviously, wins have been few and far between these last couple of seasons. But they seem really motivated to do something about their season, so I'm proud of that."
And, as he said, the losses weren't by last year's embarrassing margins. Western blasted FIU by 39 there and 41 here a year ago.
"I think everybody puts in effort and hard work. Everybody wants to be here," Hegedus said, explaining the difference from last year. "It's like our job. Everybody takes it seriously."