FIU (11-10) at Charlotte (13-7)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, February 1, 7 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Halton Arena (9,000) -- Charlotte, North Carolina. Television: WCCB Charlotte. Home Record: FIU 7-3, Charlotte 8-2. Away Record: FIU 4-4, Charlotte 2-5. Neutral Record: FIU 0-3, Charlotte 3-0. Conference Record: FIU 3-3, Charlotte 4-3. Series Record: First-ever meeting.
GAME NOTES: A pair of Conference USA squads will settle their differences on Saturday night, as the FIU Panthers meet the Charlotte 49ers at Halton Arena.
The last few weeks have been difficult for FIU, which has dropped three of its last five games. The Panthers are still hovering above .500 overall (11-10), but they are an even 3-3 against league competition, putting them squarely in the middle of the C-USA standings. They will host UAB and Middle Tennessee in their next two matchups.
Charlotte put an end to a two-game slide on Thursday with a 62-53 victory over Florida Atlantic in the first half of this short homestand. The 49ers are 13-7 on the season, and they currently hold a half game lead over FIU in the conference standings. Next up, the 49ers will visit Tulane followed by a trip to Southern Miss.
This bout marks the first time these teams have ever met, let alone matched up as conference foes. FIU joined C-USA this season after spending the previous 15 years in the Sun Belt.
Tymell Murphy erupted for a game-high 29 points, but in the end it was not enough for the Panthers to take down Marshall on Thursday night. FIU did outscore the Thundering Herd 48-42 in the paint, but it allowed them to shoot 50.9 percent from the field.
FIU's biggest weaknesses this season have all been at the offensive end. The Panthers are 12th in the 16-team league in both scoring (68 ppg) and assists (10.8 apg), while shooting a pedestrian 44.8 percent from the floor. They have managed to show up defensively most nights, limiting foes to 41.8 percent shooting and less than 70 ppg. Murphy (17 ppg, 8 rpg) is one of three active players on the roster averaging in double figures. He is also solid on the boards and is second in the conference in field goal percentage. Rakeem Buckles (13 ppg, 8.9 rpg) also puts up strong numbers from his spot on the interior, while Dennis Mavin (11.1 ppg) is the top scorer in the backcourt.
Shawn Lester logged a 24-point, 11-rebound effort off the bench to help Charlotte defeat FAU the last time out. The 49ers only connected on 33.3 percent of their shots from the field, but limited the Owls to 37.5 percent, while outscoring them at the free-throw line, 16-5.
Charlotte is a much more productive offensive team than the Panthers, although it still isn't one of the top units in the conference. The 49ers are netting 74.5 ppg and connecting on 44.9 percent of their shots from the field, ranking sixth in the conference in each category. Lester (13 ppg, 4.8 apg) is the team's leading scorer, despite starting just a single game this season. Pierria Henry (12.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 6.2 apg) is the primary scorer among the starters, as well as the third-best player in the conference in assists. He tallied nine points, eight rebounds and seven assists against FAU. Willie Clayton (11.8 ppg, 9.2 pg) and Terrence Williams (10.8 ppg) are also valued contributors.
For FIU to stand a chance, Murphy will need others aside from Buckles to step up. That isn't likely to happen, especially if Charlotte is able to get the usual contributions it gets from its balanced lineup.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Charlotte 72, FIU 64
02/01 11:53:24 ET