Louisiana (6-10) at FIU (5-7)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, January 5, 7:30 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: U.S. Century Bank Arena (5,000) -- Miami, Florida. Television: None. Home Record: Louisiana 5-2, FIU 2-2. Away Record: Louisiana 1-8, FIU 3-5. Neutral Record: Louisiana 0-0, FIU 0-0. Conference Record: Louisiana 2-3, FIU 1-3. Series Record: Louisiana leads, 16-4.
GAME NOTES: Sun Belt Conference action continue on Saturday night, as the FIU Panthers play host to the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns at U.S. Century Bank Arena in Miami.
Despite registering six wins this season, Louisiana hasn't been able to build up much momentum as it has yet to record back-to-back wins. The Cajuns played another SBC foe from the Sunshine State on Thursday, and fell on the losing side of a 75-70 final to Florida Atlantic, giving them losses in two of their last three contests.
FIU has had difficulty showing any sense consistency, as it hasn't won back- to-back games since late November. The Panthers had dropped four of their previous five matchups entering Wednesday night's bout, but they bounced back nicely with one of their best performances of the year in beating Florida A&M, 88-72. This game marks just their fifth at home this season, having split the first four.
Louisiana leads the all-time series with FIU, 16-4, which includes an 87-81 overtime triumph at home last season.
Louisiana chipped away at a 12-point halftime deficit against FAU, but it was never able to get closer than four points of the lead after intermission. The team actually boasted one of its best shooting performances of the season in the loss, making just shy of 51 percent of its field goal attempts, but it was just 11-of-21 from the foul line, while FAU connected on 18-of-21 from the charity stripe. The Cajuns got solid efforts from the trio of Elfrid Payton (23 points), Shawn Long (22 points, nine rebounds) and Bryant Mbamalu (17 points), but not much else as the rest of the team combined for only eight points. It's been a similar story all season long with those three shouldering much of the load. Long is one of the SBC's top forwards, tallying 16.6 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 2.1 bpg and 1.0 spg, while Payton (14.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 4.9 apg, 2.3 apg) and Mbamalu (13.1 ppg) have also been impressive. As a team, Louisiana nets 70.8 ppg on 43.5 percent shooting, but it hasn't been very strong at the defensive end in allowing foes to average 73.2 ppg.
The Panthers found themselves down early against Florida A&M, but they were able to rebound quickly and finished the contest by draining 43.2 percent of their 77 field goal attempts in the 16-point victory. Enjoying a career-night was Tymell Murphy, who scored 24 points and grabbed 20 rebounds in addition to tallying two steals and two blocks. Malik Smith made just four of his 13 attempts from 3-point range, but he ended up with 23 points for his fourth 20- point performance of the season, while Marco Porcher Jimenez shot 3-of-5 from beyond the arc for 12 points off the bench. Points have not been that easy to come by for FIU this season, as it makes less than 42 percent of its total shots for 68.8 ppg. Smith has drained 39 of the team's 87 3-point field goals and leads the squad with 15.2 ppg. Murphy (13.9 ppg) and Jerome Frink (10.3 ppg) have both been strong on the glass with 7.1 rpg apiece.
The Cajuns' trio of impressive scorers gives them a chance to win every night, but that formula hasn't always worked, especially on the road where they've lost eight of nine. It might not be pretty, but FIU will find a way to win this one down the stretch.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: FIU 70, Louisiana 68
01/05 10:33:11 ET