Pablo Hernandez | Contributing Writer
The FIU Panthers are back in town to host the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs on Thursday, Feb. 9 at Ocean Bank Convocation Center.
FIU finishes their short road trip going 1-1 with an impressive victory versus the Charlotte 49ers followed by a heart-wrenching loss against the UAB Blazers.
LA Tech is coming off a crucial home win against the Rice Owls, which now places them tied for fifth place in Conference USA. The Bulldogs have been on a hot streak, winning their past two games. They’ve averaged 73 points per game in their last two wins, which is around their season average of 74.6 PPG. That’s good enough for fourth in the conference.
The Bulldogs also have a respectable defense, allowing only 68.6 PPG to opposing teams.
LA Tech’s incredible offense and defense are thanks to their star player, junior guard Cobe Williams. He does it all on both sides of the floor, leading the team with 18.9 PPG and 2.1 steals per game. FIU’s ability to slow Williams down will be a key factor in whether or not they can win this one.
However, FIU has two things that give them the upper hand in this matchup. The Panthers have arguably the best player between the two teams, sophomore guard Denver Jones, and they’re playing at home, where they have an outstanding 10-4 record.
When playing at home, Jones’ scoring goes up to 20.8 PPG and his percentages skyrocket to Steph Curry levels of efficiency, as he averages a 50-40-90 (50% from the field, 40% from three, 90% from the free-throw line). Thanks to Jones, FIU’s scoring has been as great as it has been.
However, the offense isn’t what’s going to win FIU the game on Thursday night. The X-factor is the defense. The Panthers’ defense has been superb, as they’ve held opponents to 68.2 PPG in their last five games, which is well below their season average of 73.5 PPG allowed.
How has FIU’s defense been so stellar lately?
The Panthers can thank freshman guard Arturo Dean for that. He sneaks through the passing lanes at all times and is a pest on the opposing team’s best player night in and night out. Dean and his conference-leading 2.5 SPG have made FIU’s defense the best it could possibly be in these last five games.
With a win, FIU would gain a 7-7 conference record and move up to the fifth spot. LA Tech’s record would go down to 6-7.
Can the Panthers take care of business at home? Or will the Bulldogs steal a game on the road?
LA Tech: 68