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El Paso, TX — After its eight-game winning streak was snapped with a 71-69 loss to Florida Atlantic on Thursday, UTEP (18-7, 8-2 C-USA) looks to get back on the victory track Saturday against FIU (13-12, 5-5 C-USA).
The game will feature a special halftime performance by “America’s Got Talent” winner Olate Dogs.
"The issue is, we have to move on against a team that defeated the team that beat us Thursday night," UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. "I think [Florida Atlantic coach] Mike Jarvis might agree that this is a team more physically gifted than his."
UTEP dropped into a four-way tie for first place in Conference USA following Thursday’s defeat. The Miners, Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee and Southern Miss all sport 8-2 league marks. The Miners would own the tiebreaker over the Bulldogs and Blue Raiders and will play at Southern Miss next Saturday (Feb. 22). Tulsa is lurking, a game behind the leaders with a 7-3 record in conference play.
FIU was affiliated with the Sun Belt a year ago, finishing 18-14 overall and 11-9 in league play. Anthony Evans was named the Panthers’ head coach on April 16, 2013 after leading Norfolk State to back-to-back 20-win seasons.
FIU’s basketball program is relatively new. The Panthers started play during the 1981-82 season and reached the NCAA Tournament in 1995. The winning season a year ago was FIU’s first in 13 years.
FIU has a pair of dynamic frontcourt players in seniors Rakeem Buckles and Tymell Murphy, who have 11 and nine double-doubles respectively.
Murphy averages 16.3 ppg and 7.6 rpg, and Buckles averages 13.6 ppg and 9.0 rpg. Buckles ranks 18th nationally in double-doubles, and Murphy is 19th in field goal percentage (.586).
"Their big guy [Buckles] is a transfer from Louisville, last year's national champions,” Floyd said. “He can really play. I've had a couple of coaches tell me that Murphy, a 6-5 perimeter player, might be the best driver in the United States from perimeter to hole. So we will have our hands full."
FIU is less settled in the backcourt with two sophomore starters -- Jerome Frink (8.8 ppg) and Cody Mann (5.2 ppg). Mann is a transfer from Colorado State.
The Panthers won their first road game in over a month on Thursday, prevailing at UTSA 80-72. Five FIU players scored in double figures, with junior guard Dennis Mavin leading the way (16 points). Buckles had another double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. FIU led by as many as 18 points in the game and did not trail.
The Panthers are 4-6 on the road, including 2-3 in C-USA play.
The Miners had an extensive film session on Friday afternoon, reviewing Thursday’s game, before turning their attention to FIU.
"We have to move on from Thursday night but it has to be addressed ... it has to be addressed,” Floyd said. “There is a chance for carryover and we have to get back to who we are."
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