BOCA RATON – Pressure defense like FAU had yet to experience this season rattled the Owls on Wednesday – a flurry of long FIU arms and quick Panther feet harassing Florida Atlantic’s young back court into mistakes that ultimately led to a loss against Florida International.
Having experienced FIU’s press, the Owls vowed to be ready for it when the rematch tips off Saturday at 7 p.m.
“It shocked us at first,” guard Anthony Adger said. “I think in the second half we settled down and played our game.”
FAU built an early 10-point lead on Wednesday before FIU turned up the pressure. By the time the first half concluded, the Panthers stormed back to take a 40-34 lead.
“In this case, for us, I think our guys just being more accustomed to the pressure can help because they play differently than everyone else,” FAU coach Dusty May said. “They play full court. They’ll put two and three on the ball. There were a couple times where they had four in the front court and we had guys open at the far end and we’re so hesitant and timid with the ball that we don’t even look up the floor because of the pressure.”
It wasn’t as though FAU didn’t foresee the possibility that FIU would pressure the ball full court, but the shorthanded Owls couldn’t replicate its ferocity during practices.
The lead FIU built thanks to its full court press proved too much for FAU to overcome.
“Now we know what to expect,” guard Anthony Adger said.
A senior, Adger is one of the lone veterans on the Owls. Fellow guards Michael Forrest, a freshman, and Richardson Maitre, a sophomore, both showed their inexperience in Wednesday’s loss.
The pressure didn’t force an inordinate amount of turnovers – the Owls were only credited with 10 on the night – but it kept FAU guards from looking down the floor, where the Owls had open outlets that would have resulted in odd-man breaks and potentially easy baskets. FIU’s backcourt harassment prevented FAU from establishing an offensive flow upon crossing midcourt.
Forrest, who had been one of the most productive Owls in recent games, particularly struggled, committing as many turnovers, three, as he had points. As May acknowledged afterward, FIU’s pressure forced Forrest to speed up his decision making to an uncomfortably short time frame.
“For a freshman guard it was a learning experience, but from the second half to the first, he was much better in the second than he was the first half,” May said.
FAU trailed by double digits for much of the second half before rallying in the closing minutes behind the athletic drives of senior forward Xavian Stapleton, who’s lay-up attempt with less than three seconds remaining that would have tied the score rattled around the rim before bounding out.
FIU’s Antonio Daye subsequently drained two free throws to seal the Panthers’ 78-74 victory.
“Now we know the mistakes, the turnovers that we had, we can fix those things tomorrow,” Adger said on Wednesday, following the loss.
FAU (11-9, 2-5) needs effect guard play against FIU (13-7, 4-3) if the Owls want to stop their current four-game losing streak, the longest of May’s first year as coach.
“I wish we played tomorrow,” May said on Wednesday. “We’re ready to play again. Loses like that are tough. You don’t feel like you played your best. You left some points on the floor. And our guys are eager to compete. We’re still battling. We’re not playing well enough to win. We’re playing well enough to be in position to win.”