FIU (7-7) at Arkansas State (10-5)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, January 10, 8:05 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Convocation Center (10,563) -- Jonesboro, Arkansas. Television: None. Home Record: FIU 4-2, ASU 7-1. Away Record: FIU 3-5, ASU 3-4. Neutral Record: FIU 0-0, ASU 0-0. Conference Record: FIU 2-3, ASU 4-2. Series Record: Arkansas State leads, 21-7.
GAME NOTES: A Sun Belt Conference showdown is on tap for Thursday night, as the Arkansas State Red Wolves entertain the FIU Panthers at the Convocation Center.
The season did not start off very well for FIU, as it opened up with losses in seven of its first 11 bouts, but since then it has experienced a turnaround. The Panthers have claimed victories in three straight, most recently downing Bethune-Cookman on their home floor, 74-72.
Arkansas State as well has used a recent hot streak to catapult in the standings. After losing their first two Sun Belt games, the Red Wolves responded by winning four in a row, all against league foes, to move to an impressive 10-5 overall. This game marks the finale of a three-game homestand, the team having already beaten Middle Tennessee (66-60 in OT) and Western Kentucky (75-61) last week.
The Red Wolves have a firm handle on the all-time series with the Panthers, 21-7, although FIU won the first matchup this season, 80-61, back on Nov. 29.
FIU was in firm control of its latest matchup, leading Bethune-Cookman by 10 points with just over eight minutes to play, and even though it let most of that lead to slip away down the stretch, it never surrendered the advantage and held on for the narrow victory. The Panthers were aided by 45.6 percent field goal efficiency, and another stellar performance from Tymell Murphy, who logged his third straight double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds. While Murphy's year-to-date numbers have been impressive (15.4 ppg, 7.9 rpg), he has been remarkable in the new year, averaging 24.0 ppg and 15.0 rpg in three January games. Jerome Frink also recorded a double-double in the triumph with 11 points and 11 rebounds, Malik Smith added 15 points, and Deric Hill had eight assists and eight rebounds, although he did go scoreless and committed eight turnovers. On the season, FIU nets 69.6 ppg (fourth in Sun Belt), but it has the conference's second-worst scoring defense at 72.0 ppg. Behind Murphy, Smith is the next-best scoring option at 14.7 ppg, draining 43-of-116 shots from beyond the arc (.371), and Frink (10.1 ppg, 7.7 rpg) adds solid production in the frontcourt.
Despite trailing at halftime, Arkansas State was able to surge to the 14-point home victory over Western Kentucky by draining 58.6 percent of its field goal attempts in the second half, which included eight of its nine 3-pointers. Leading the way was Ed Townsel, who made good on 10-of-19 shots from the floor (including 5-of-10 from long range) en route to 25 points. Brandon Peterson was strong in the paint with 14 points and eight rebounds, while Trey Finn added 13 points in the triumph. The Red Wolves sport the conference's second- best scoring margin (plus-5.7), even though they actually shoot a lower percentage from the field than their opponents (.419 to .424). They have a knack for getting to the foul line, and even though their percentage isn't great (.658), they've attempted 107 more free throws than the opposition. Townsel is the league's third-leading scorer at 16.3 ppg, thanks in large part to 43 field goals from beyond the arc. Peterson (11.6 ppg) ranks behind only South Alabama's Augustine Rubit in rebounding (9.7 rpg), and while Raeford Worsham nets just 8.1 ppg, he does so by shooting 54.5 percent from the field.
After an up-and-down start, Arkansas State appears to be playing like one of the Sun Belt's best teams, and even though the Panthers have beaten ASU once already this season and have shown the ability to win on the road, the Red Wolves' hot play coupled with the homecourt advantage will be too much for FIU to overcome.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Arkansas State 72, FIU 66
01/10 10:37:06 ET