FIU (10-8) at Louisiana (7-14)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, January 24, 8 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Cajundome (13,500) -- Lafayette, Louisiana. Television: None. Home Record: FIU 6-2, Louisiana 6-3. Away Record: FIU 4-6, Louisiana 1-11. Neutral Record: FIU 0-0, Louisiana 0-0. Conference Record: FIU 5-4, Louisiana 3-7. Series Record: Louisiana leads, 16-5.
GAME NOTES: A Sun Belt Conference tilt is on tap in Lafayette on Thursday night, as the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns play host to the FIU Panthers.
FIU has been one of the hottest teams in the Sun Belt, as it has won six of its last seven games to improve to 10-8 overall and 5-4 in conference. The Panthers played a pair of home games last week and came out victorious against North Texas on Jan. 17 (70-64) and Troy last Saturday (61-55).
Louisiana has been undoubtedly one of the most disappointing teams in the conference this season, as it has lost twice as many games as it has won overall (7-14), and has put together a similar pace in league play (3-7). The Cajuns are losers of five of their last six contests, which includes an 82-60 defeat at the hands of Middle Tennessee last Saturday. One saving grace for the Cajuns has been their record at the Cajundome, where they are 6-3.
Louisiana leads the all-time series with FIU, 16-5, but the Panthers came out on top earlier this season, winning in a 75-70 final at home on Jan. 5.
FIU trailed its game against Troy by two with just over two minutes to play, but it caught fire at the right time, ending the bout on a 9-1 run to capture the victory. It was far from the Panthers' most impressive performance, as they shot only 37 percent from the field, but they limited their mistakes by committing just four turnovers. Malik Smith was one of the few players on the mark in the winning effort, shooting 5-of-11 from 3-point range for a game- high 22 points. Tymell Smith tallied 15 points and eight rebounds, while Cameron Bell chipped in 12 points. Murphy (15.3 ppg) and Smith (14.9 ppg) combine to form one of the most potent scoring duos in the league, ranking sixth and seventh in the Sun Belt in points per game, respectively. Murphy does the bulk of his damage behind the league's highest field goal percentage (.594), and he stuffs the stat sheet with 7.2 ppg, 1.1 bpg and 1.4 spg. While Murphy patrols the paint, Smith works his magic out on the perimeter, ranking second in the conference with 57 3-pointers. Jerome Frink tacks on 9.5 ppg and 7.3 rpg for an FIU squad that averages 69.3 ppg.
The Cajuns didn't have much of a positive nature to take out of their latest outing, as they shot less than 39 percent from the field and lost both the rebounding (43-33) and turnover (15-11) battles in the 22-point setback to Middle Tennessee. Shawn Long notched his fourth straight double-double with 21 points and 13 rebounds, but he was a big reason for the team's struggles, shooting just 7-of-21 while coughing the ball up six times. Elfrid Payton added 14 points in defeat. Long is one of the league's top forwards with 15.8 ppg, 10.2 rpg and 2.0 bpg, all of which rank in the top-five in the conference. He also stretches the floor with 21 3-pointers. Payton is a multi- faceted performer as well, averaging 14.7 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 5.0 apg and 2.2 spg, the latter two being league-bests. Bryant Mbamalu (14.0 ppg) usually rounds out a solid scoring trio, but he will miss a few weeks with a thumb injury. Scoring points is rarely the problem for Louisiana (69.6 ppg), but it yields a league-high 73.7 ppg to its opponents.
Louisiana has found comfort playing in its home building, but it is trending downward in a hurry while FIU is establishing itself as one of the top teams in the league. Expect the Panthers to pass this road test.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: FIU 71, Louisiana 65
01/24 10:34:35 ET