Florida Atlantic (11-13) at FIU (12-10)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, February 7, 7 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: U.S. Century Bank Arena (5,000) -- Miami, Florida. Television: None. Home Record: FAU 7-4, FIU 7-3. Away Record: FAU 3-9, FIU 5-7. Neutral Record: FAU 1-0, FIU 0-0. Conference Record: FAU 6-7, FIU 7-6. Series Record: FIU leads, 16-12.
GAME NOTES: Sunshine State foes are set to square off in Sun Belt Conference action on Thursday night, as the FIU Panthers welcome the Florida Atlantic Owls to U.S. Century Bank Arena in Miami.
FAU most recently hosted first-place Middle Tennessee last Saturday, and suffered a 73-56 defeat for its fourth loss in its last five outings. The rough patch has come on the heels of the Owls having won four of five to start the 2013 calendar year, and they now sit at 11-13 overall and 6-7 in Sun Belt play.
After closing out the month of January with a pair of hard-luck losses at South Alabama (60-58) and versus Middle Tennessee (66-64), FIU opened this month by returning to the win column with a 76-73 decision over ULM to move above .500 in league play at 7-6. The Panthers (12-10) have been especially impressive on their home floor, going 7-3 at U.S. Century Bank Arena this year.
FIU snapped a five-game losing streak in the series with FAU by claiming a 76-56 win on Feb. 4, 2012 to improve to 16-12 all-time.
Despite having the home court advantage in its latest matchup, FAU was thoroughly overmatched by Middle Tennessee as it got outshot from the field, 55.3 percent to 40.8 percent, and never led in the game. Stefan Moody put together a strong effort in defeat with 17 points, and Greg Gantt tallied 13, albeit on just 5-of-16 from the floor. Gantt is the Sun Belt's most prolific scorer, netting 21.1 ppg thanks in large part to his prowess from 3-point range (65-of-162, .401) and from the foul line (92-of-117, .786). The 6-foot-2 senior has cooled off in recent weeks however, averaging just 14.5 ppg in the last four games after he poured in 22 or more in each of the previous 11 contests. Moody has been a solid second option with 14.4 ppg, and Pablo Bertone posts 8.3 ppg, but no other player scores more than 5.6 ppg. As a team, FIU has been largely a disappointment statistically, netting only 63.7 ppg while giving up 66.9 ppg.
FIU suffered a bit of a scare last Saturday at home against last-place ULM, as it found itself down by two in the final minute, but Malik Smith was fouled after tying the game on a layup with 19 seconds left, and his subsequent make on the free throw gave his team the lead for good. Four of the five Panthers starters scored in double-digits in the triumph, led by 17 points from Smith. Tymell Murphy added 14 point and three steals, Jerome Frink tallied 13 points and six rebounds, and Marco Porcher Jimenez finished with 10 points. Murphy is one of the strongest interior forces in the Sun Belt, shooting a league-best 60.3 percent from the field for his 15.3 ppg, grabbing a team-high 7.5 rpg, and also adding more than a block and a steal per outing. Smith drills a conference-best three 3-pointers per game, which makes up the bulk of his 14.5 ppg. Frink (10.1 ppg, 7.0 rpg) helps give the Panthers a formidable frontcourt presence, the team averaging the third-most points in the league (69.4 ppg), but also yielding the second-most (70.6 ppg).
FAU was riding a wave a success a few weeks back when Gantt was performing like the league's best player, but with his struggles have come a decrease in the team's overall performance. FIU is the more balanced club, and that combined with the home court advantage should mean good things for the Panthers.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: FIU 75, Florida Atlantic 68
02/07 10:35:51 ET