Miami (6-0) took care of cross-town rival Florida International (1-4) 78-58 Tuesday night at the Convocation Center. While FIU is off to its slowest start since the 1990-91 season, the Hurricanes are enjoying their best start in school history.
The schools have met 48 times, and FIU has come out victorious in the last three contests. Miami would have none of it this time.
“It was very important [for us to beat them],” said senior forward Chanivia Broussard. “They got to talk all the trash the last couple of years.”
Miami shot 52.5 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from three-point range. The ‘Canes converted only 60 percent of their free throw attempts but held the Panthers to a mere 40.4 percent from the field and 22.2 percent in three pointers. Sophomore guard Tamara James led Miami with 23 points, six rebounds, and two blocks. Senior forwards Broussard and Shaquana Wilkins each posted 15 points with Broussard adding four steals. Junior forward Melissa Knight led the ‘Canes with 10 assists and added two blocks. Sophomore Tatjana Marincic added six rebounds off the bench.
Broussard converted a three-point play to start the game. The ‘Canes shot ahead to an 8-0 lead in the first two minutes of play. FIU was heavily penalized in the opening of the half, and hecklers from the newly formed Hurricane Force student section appeared to take their toll on the opponents. A combination of offensive dominance by Miami and passing errors on the FIU side allowed the Hurricanes to retain a large lead throughout the half, entering the locker room ahead 42-27.
In the second half, the tables turned and the Hurricanes began making mistakes. McCormick appeared to be having trouble as the Panthers started to close in, trailing by a score of 45-38 after five minutes. Knight then missed a crucial opportunity and FIU’s Milena Tomova put the Panthers within two.
“We know they’re not supposed to be this close,” Broussard said. “This year we have so much heart and we’re fighting together as a team…We’ve been down that road before and that’s a road we don’t want to take anymore; having a team back 20, 25 points and then in the end we’re losing.”
A much-needed time out got the ‘Canes back on their feet, however, as they increased the lead with a James three-pointer, two shots by Broussard, a McCormick three, and a Hutashi Wilson lay-up. They slowed down the pace with two minutes remaining in order to preserve their lead. The Panthers tried to take advantage but were unsuccessful, finding themselves behind by 20 points as the final buzzer sounded.
“I think that one of the things that we’ve accomplished so far is that we know we have the ability to win on the road, we know that we can play a tight game and be successful,” said Head Coach Ferne Labati. “You know, we just have to build on that. We’ve got a lot of growing and a lot of learning to go through…we haven’t really arrived. Every single day we need to work on getting better.”
Miami faces Florida next Friday at the Convocation Center.
Labati is not worried about overconfidence from her players or too much down time between games.
“They’re not [cocky] like that,” she said. “I think it [the break] is good because number one-the coaches can look at film, number two-the players can rest a little bit.”
The step-by-step attitude of not getting caught up in wins is catching on with the rest of the squad.
“We’re in the Top Ten I think,” James said. “We have a lot of talent on the team. We’ll just have to take it day by day.”
Melissa Teich can be reached at email@example.com.