Mike Jarvis recently noted that the Owl’s offensive game was complete and what was now needed was to learn how to defend.
His wishes came true tonight as Florida Atlantic (14-12, 10-5) stifled a late run by Florida International (7-22, 4-12) to hold on for a 77-74 win on the road in Miami.
“That’s what you have to do if are going to win, especially if you’re on the road. Usually it’s at the defensive end that you have to make the big plays”, said Jarvis.
After winning just two conference games last year, FAU has now amassed 10 victories with three games left to play. The mark ties the program record set back in the 2006-07 season under Rex Walters (16-15, 10-8).
First half action saw the two team’s trade baskets, exchanging the lead numerous times late in the period, before knotting up in a 39-39 tie at the break.
FIU managed to keep things close by making 7 of 13 three point attempts during the frame despite averaging only 28.2% per outing.
Better defense by FAU enabled a 12 point Owl’s lead during the second half. However, the Panthers made a charge down the stretch, pulling to within one at 75-74, with just over seven seconds remaining.
But Brett Royster blocked J.C Otero’s lay-up attempt with 7.8 seconds left to thwart the comeback.
“It was awfully good”, said Jarvis of the play. “He was very effective in the post on defense tonight. Even when he didn’t block shots he altered a lot.”
Ray Taylor and Sanchez Hughley then hit one free throw each to complete the difference.
Royster (10 points, 14 rebounds) set a new record for most blocks in a season with 75 while surpassing his previous mark of 73 set last season.
Hughley tied his career high with 19 points to lead all scorers.
Florida International, who has now lost six straight, was led by J.C. Otero’s 15 points and 16 rebounds.
FAU will travel to take on Troy (15-11, 10-5) Saturday in what will be a very important game amidst two opponents wrapped in a three way tie for first in the Eastern Division. Tip-off is 8:30 p.m.