Pablo Hernandez | Contributing Writer
The FIU men’s basketball team is back on the road after a successful two-game home stand, as they visit the Charlotte 49ers on Thursday, Feb. 2 at Dale F. Halton Arena.
The Panthers are coming off their third straight win, making it the longest win streak of the season so far for this squad. Meanwhile, the 49ers suffered a heart-wrenching loss against the Rice Owls.
These two teams have already met this season, with FIU coming out on top in a close home game, 62-60.
Charlotte is a tricky team to analyze. They currently boast an impressive 13-8 record overall, yet they sit around the bottom of the barrel in the Conference USA with a subpar 4-6 record. How is that even possible? Well, it’s because of their away/home splits.
At home, the 49ers are 8-1, which is a conference best. However, on the road, they are 3-6. They have struggled mightily when they are the visiting team and have been a juggernaut while at home.
Anchoring the second-best defense in C-USA, the 49ers are holding opponents to an average of only 61.6 points per game. That would be good enough to be a top seed, but their 3-6 record on the road has limited them.
The Panthers are going to have to look out for redshirt junior guard Brice Williams, who is leading Charlotte with 12 PPG and 4.5 rebounds per game. His best feature is his 3-point shooting as he is shooting a very solid 42% from beyond the stripe. FIU has kept Williams in check before, holding him to 10 points for 4-of-15 shooting in their previous matchup. The team will have to play even better defense this go around.
FIU has been dreadful on the road, as they boast the worst road record in C-USA, standing at a horrid 1-7. Not to mention, they allow the most points to opposing teams, giving up 74.3 PPG.
Sophomore guard Denver Jones will have to produce at an elite level this game if the Panthers want to have a chance on the offensive side. In the previous matchup, Jones scored a game-high 20 points while shooting an efficient 7-13 from the field. His timely buckets will be needed throughout the entire game.
The other player that will need to perform at a high level will be freshman guard Arturo Dean. His play on both ends of the floor has been crucial all season long for the Panthers, as he has established himself as an elite two-way guard. Dean leads the conference in steals per game, averaging 2.5.
The last time FIU has beaten a top-five defense was when they won against this exact same 49ers team back on Jan 5. The question now is whether or not history will repeat itself.
Will the Panthers’ win streak climb up to four or will the 49ers smother FIU’s flaming hot offense with their suffocating defense?
Catch the game today at 7 p.m. on ESPN+.