North Florida men’s basketball edge out a win over FIU

Joslyn Simmons

A win streak had to be broken at the UNF Arena, but it wouldn’t be North Florida’s on Dec.13. UNF (5-7) pulled out a 87-85 victory over the Florida International Panthers (5-5) with a late rally in the second half.

While the Ospreys earned the win, they lost sophomore starter Garrett Sams early in the first half with an ankle injury. He came back from the locker room on crutches and a wrap on his right foot.

Head coach Matthew Driscoll said he will sit Sam in the coming weeks before conference play.

“Right now we are going to get some x-rays tomorrow. But you know he felt like he rolled it. Just landed on the guy and rolled it,” Driscoll said.  

Out of the gate, the athletic Panthers snatched the first basket before battling back and forth with the Ospreys’ trademark threes.

With just under 15 minutes to go in the half, FIU created a run which forced UNF to call a timeout to regroup, down 18-12.

Wajid Aminu sparked an Ospreys’ run that gradually chipped away at the Panthers’ lead. Once again, threes pushed UNF close to FIU before tying the match up at 26.

The two teams continued to go back and forth with quick plays and long range threes until North Florida pulled away for a seven point lead going into halftime.

When the second half resumed, the Panthers came out fast and capitalized on open baskets and Ospreys’ turnovers to regain the lead.

Driscoll said he noticed the Ospreys managed to stay close to the Panthers despite the numerous chances for the visiting team to separate for a huge lead.

“When you come out of the second half up seven and your first eight possessions are empty, that’s not good,” Driscoll said. “And the thing we keep telling them was believe it or not guys, they’re letting you stay in the game.”

For the majority of the second half, FIU controlled the game with a slight margin over the home team.

Driscoll remembered a heart-to-heart talk with Ivan Gandia-Rosa during a timeout in the second half in front of the entire team, where he called out the transfer and provided a real opinion on how he was playing.

“I looked him right in the eye, in front of the team and I said the reason why you are playing the way you are playing is because you are playing soft, and he looked me right in the eye and he never said a word,” Driscoll said. “And I said you are better than him, you controlled him the whole first half and you are allowing him to dictate what you are going to do, and then after that you saw exactly what he did.”

Gandia-Rosa broke the margin wide open with explosive plays of his own late in the second half in response. His four-point play brought the Ospreys within two before he added another three point play to get the team down only one point.

Gandia-Rosa saw his play as just another piece of the puzzle for the Ospreys when they faced a time of adversity.

“They found me, I controlled the game, we did all we needed to, we got stops and we came away with a win,” Gandia-Rosa said.

With three made free throws, Gandia-Rosa recaptured the lead with just over three minutes remaining and the Ospreys didn’t let it go again.

Driscoll believed his team worked well together during a time of uncertainty, especially his younger players such as Ryan Burkhardt and Trip Day, who had a career-high night of 13 points.

Down the stretch, North Florida went 11 for 12 at the free throw line to give themselves more room over FIU.

Gandia-Rosa led all scorers with a career-high 24 points. For the Panthers, Willy Nunez Jr. and Brian Beard Jr. both had 16 points a piece.

In the physical matchup, North Florida had 18 miscues while FIU made seven errors.

The Panthers dominated in the paint with 56 points compared to the Ospreys’ 34. Off turnovers, FIU capitalized with 20 points while UNF only converted seven points.

North Florida shot just over 49 percent from the field, FIU made 48 percent of their shots. The Ospreys also slightly out-rebounded the Panthers 39 to 36 with a massive presence on the defensive glass.

The Birds of Trey knocked down 11 three-pointers, despite an injured Sams and a 1 for 7 performance from usual hot hand JT Escobar.

FIU only connected of three out of its 16 three-point attempts for just under 20 percent from behind the arc.

Next, men’s basketball hit the road to take on Missouri Dec. 16 at 8:30 p.m.


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