Game #9-095: Florida International at Coastal Carolina ChanticleersNovember 24, 2012 5:00 pm
When you are a season ticket holder for a team below the Red Line, you try to find the positives when the school is making its schedule. If you are lucky, you will be able to see a team from above the Red Line visit, but a lot of times there are those games that do not seem to have any positives
What I am intrigued by are the mid-vs.-mid matchups that come in the non-conference portion of the season. When I found out last year that Coastal Carolina had scheduled a home-and-home with Florida International, I was fairly excited. Growing up as a kid in Michigan I was a fan of the Detroit Pistons during the Bad Boys era. FIU's coach last year was Isiah Thomas, so getting to see him on the sidelines would be a treat when the Golden Panthers made the return trip.
As it turned out, the rest of the season did not go too well for Isiah, much like the many of his career decisions after retiring. He was let go from FIU; despite Thomas' poor record, he still had the support of his players
Florida International had to start anew with nine players either graduating or leaving the program. FIU went with a national name to fill its head coaching vacancy when they hired Richard Pitino, who had been on his dad's staff at Louisville for the past three years. Pitino had a lot of work to do, but was able to piece together a roster of junior college guys and several transfers; four of which will not be eligible until next year.
With this brand new team fostered some new hope for fans of the Panthers. While Thomas could recruit some of the "highly touted prospects," he could never put out a winning product. Pitino is still left with a daunting task for a program that has only had one winning record since leaving the Trans-America Athletic Conference (now the Atlantic Sun Conference), with that coming over a decade ago.
While I would not be getting a chance to see a childhood favorite, it would still be interesting to see the younger Pitino against CCU. This would be a good gauge to see how well the Chants would stack up against a Sun Belt team.
I had originally planned for this to be my second game of the day since there was a 2 p.m. tip in Wilmington, giving me plenty of time to drive back to Conway for a 7 p.m. start. The school changed the start time at the last minute though, ruining my plans. It said it was to coincide with CCU's football playoff game
that was starting at 2 p.m. down at Bethune-Cookman. Anyone who had a ticket to the FIU game would be welcome to watch on the game on the video boards if they came early.
I would not have been so aggravated with the game time change if that was the only motive. It was plain as day however why the game time was changed, and that is because the Clemson and South Carolina football game was also scheduled for 7 p.m. With the students gone, there was probably the thought that less people would attend so with a 5 p.m. start, they figured they could get a few more people to show up.
I could understand the change if the CCU football game was at 7 p.m., but to change things around because of start times of different schools in a different sport is disappointing. The supposed viewing party would not even be able to catch the end of the football game since most college football games last around three and a half hours anyways. The move did not pay off in gaining a bigger attendance, since the HTC Center ended up having a crowd that filled it up a quarter of the way.
When the game started, one of the first things I noticed was that Pitino also used a lot of full-court pressure that his dad had been famous for using. While FIU does not have the same athletes that a Louisville squad can have, I knew CCU would have problems with it, since they always have in years past, regardless of the level of competition.
While CCU was able to handle the press at first and keep things neck and neck, the guard play eventually started to break down. The Chanticleers had 12 turnovers in the first half, as it seemed like they could not get out of their own backcourt for a several-minute stretch.
When the press was broken, CCU was hesitant on shots and not making the correct pass. I could attribute this to all of the new players the team had, but that excuse did not hinder a new Panther team. They were finding the open man and getting steals without fouling like a well-oiled machine and had a 13-point advantage.
CCU used the final minutes of the half to go on a 9-2 run, capped by an Anthony Raffa three to keep things close at 37-31. The Chanticleers could have used the late momentum to come out fast in the second half, but some hot shooting from FIU out of the gate put the Panthers up big when they started with a 13-4 run. Malik Smith was a large part of this, having a nice game and drilling threes regardless if he was open.
Coastal was able to turn the tide on FIU when they started their own full-court press. The Panthers started making the same mistakes that CCU was in the first half, and Coastal was capitalizing and had the lead back down to six. It also looked like the Chants would get an advantage at the free-throw line, since the first seven fouls were called on FIU. That would not be the case once FIU settled down and drew 10 of the next 11 fouls on the Chanticleers.
With CCU down 13 with five minutes to go, it looked as if the Chants was done for until Raffa picked up the entire scoring load. He would go on to score the final 17 points for the Chanticleers, but they could not make the necessary stops on defense.