Malik Martin MBB

Malik Martin goes up for a shot

The 49ers look to stay atop the Conference USA rankings against the Florida International Panthers (14-6, 5-2). 

Led by senior forward Devon Andrews, the Panthers run the most prolific, fast-paced offense in C-USA. FIU ranks at or near the top of the conference in several major offensive statistical areas. The Panthers 81.1 points per game ranks first in C-USA and their attempted 1184 field goal attempts rank second. Most would think the Panthers would sacrifice efficiency with their up-tempo offense, but that’s not the case. The Panthers 305 assists rank first in C-USA and their +1.0 assist to turnover ratio ranks second. Furthermore, the Panthers can score from all levels as they lead C-USA with 189 made three-point attempts.  

The primary catalysts of the FIU offense include Andrews, whose 16.8 points per game ranks fourth in CUSA; Osasumwen Osaghae, who averages a near double-double with 13.3 and 8.4 rebounds per game; and Antonio Daye Jr., who averages 9.9 points per game and a C-USA leading 5.6 assists per game. 

In the NCAA, the FIU offense is tied for the No. 13 spot in scoring offense. Stopping the Panthers after a tough 2-2 stretch in C-USA play over the past two weeks will be a tall task for the Charlotte defense.

“Offensively, they are a very challenging team. They play fast,” Charlotte Head Coach Ron Sanchez said. 

The Panthers’ defense, anchored by the nation’s No. 1 ranked player in blocks per game, Osaghae, excels at protecting the rim and creating steals. Entering the matchup, FIU leads C-USA in total blocked shots and total steals with 132 and 186, respectively. FIU guards Daye Jr. and Trejon Jacob are ranked third and fifth in C-USA with 39 and 28 total steals, respectively. 

One weakness of the FIU defense the 49ers should look to exploit is their ability to rebound. In major rebounding statistical categories such as rebounding defense, defensive rebounding percentage and offensive rebounding percentage, the Panthers rank near or at the bottom of the conference. 

As a unit, the Panthers’ defense does several things at a high level, such as blocking shots and creating steals. However, their fast-paced offense gives other teams more opportunities to score, which, in turn, gives them only the tenth best scoring defense in C-USA. 

“FIU runs a full-court press and multiple types of pressure,” Sanchez said. “We’ll do what we can to prepare, but the focus is mainly going to be on ourselves.” 

The 49ers look to garner their second win of the week on Saturday, Jan. 25, against the FIU Panthers in Halton Arena at 4 p.m.

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