BOCA RATON — As the regular season comes to a close for the Florida Atlantic men’s basketball team, the final two games will see the Owls facing heated rival Florida International. The first of two games will be in Miami on Thursday with the season finale Saturday in Boca Raton.
While the Shula Bowl between FAU and FIU is famous in football, the rivalry between the two South Florida-based universities is vehement with every sport.
“This week is exciting for a number of reasons: to be playing your rival that's just down the street and also to be in position to finish at home on Saturday, hopefully with a little bit of momentum going in the conference tournament,” FAU coach Dusty May said. “We're pretty healthy for March. And you know, just just excited to get back to playing good basketball. We've had a really good week so far in practice. Our guys have found a second wind this late in the season from a competitive standpoint and we're excited going forward.”
Momentum on the road
One of the unfortunate trends for the Owls this season has been their performance on the road, but they are coming off of an important 74-69 win at Charlotte. The win snapped a four-game losing streak that saw the Owls in a funk compared to their stellar play in early February.
“We didn't play great by any stretch of imagination," May said. "The most exciting part of that game was that we didn't shoot very well, we missed the shots we typically make and we still found a way to win with effort plays, loose balls, with offensive rebounds and we got great contributions from a lot of different guys. I can't say enough about our reserves or second unit even though they're just as good as the starters. Those guys continue to develop and we got great contributions from a lot of different guys.”
Last Saturday’s game marked only the third road win of the season for FAU. Going into their final road game off a big road win is a step in the right direction.
“It's always much more fun to learn through a win than a loss. If Charlotte beat us by one, I think our guys would be very confident going into FIU but it was a big road win for the growth of our program,” May said. “All the things that we're trying to achieve on a micro scale, but from a macro standpoint, we're trying to be the best team we can be going into Frisco (Texas) for the conference tournament.”
Looking ahead to FIU
It’s easy to assume in any sport where FAU and FIU face off, it’ll be a physical matchup. May said that he expects that and that the team is excited for the final two games.
“I would expect our guys to play extremely hard for a number of reasons and obviously it being a rivalry team these games have been very competitive. They've been between two programs and teams that are very determined to win and there's a lot of stake for both programs going forward,” May said. “But it's pretty neat to play them in the same week and hopefully get a lot of media attention and a lot of local attention for high school recruits, high school coaches and fans in general.”
Unlike football where FAU has dominated, FIU leads the all-time basketball series, 28-21, but the Owls found success last season as they swept. May said his scouting report for FIU is that its size is what makes the Panthers stand out.
“They have two big players that are basically center in size and then their backcourt is extremely dangerous with obviously [Tevin] Brewer, [Eric] Lovett and [Denver] Jones off the bench even though he plays starter minutes,” May said. “We have to do a good job of defending the 3-point line. Like every year, they play a very unique brand of basketball where they shoot a lot of threes and they get lobs at the rim to their bigs so we have to be good in ball screen coverage and have to take away easy baskets and then we're going to have be very disciplined on the other end not turning it over.”
Brewer leads the Panthers with 14.9 points per game with Jones adding 12.5.
Junior guard Michael Forrest leads the Owls with 12.5 ppg, followed by senior forward Jailyn Ingram (12.4).
Want to watch?
Who: FAU (16-13 9-7 C-USA) at FIU (15-14, 5-11)
When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
Listen: Fox Sports 650 AM
Follow: @ZachWeinberger on Twitter
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: FAU Owls play FIU Panthers in men's college basketball in Miami, Boca Raton