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March 11, 2013For the first time in the program's history, the FIU men's basketball team (18-13) advanced to the Sun Belt Conference Tournament Finals with a 61-57 win over the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (28-5) on Sunday, March 10, at Summit Arena.
For the second-straight night, sophomore Deric Hill was a huge factor in the Panthers' victory, scoring a career-high 16 points on 3-of-7 shooting from the floor and 10-of-11 shooting from the free-throw line. The Miami native notched a team-high six assists and a game-high four steals.
Senior Cameron Bell added 15 points on 5-of-11 shooting, hitting some key 3-pointers in the contest. The West Bloomfield, Mich., native grabbed four rebounds and had a huge block of a Raymond Cintron 3-pointer in the waning moments of the game. Junior Malik Smith scored 14 points, draining 3-of-6 shots from beyond the arc. The Boston, Mass., native has recorded 11 treys in this year's tournament, two shy of tying the championship record of 13 held by John Knox of Jacksonville (1997). Smith hit two clutch free-throws with seven seconds left to seal the victory for FIU.
FIU, which held the lead in all but the first two minutes of action, shot 33.3 percent from the floor (18-of-54) and shot 31.8 percent from 3-point range (7-of-22). The Panthers converted 81.8 percent from the free-throw line (18-of-22) led by Hill's 10-of-11 from the charity stripe.
The Panthers held the Blue Raiders to 37.5 percent shooting from the field (21-of-56) and allowed just three 3-pointers by a Middle Tennessee team that finished the night shooting 20.0 percent from downtown (3-of-15).
The Blue Raiders held a 43-39 edge on the boards and a 24-18 advantage in points in the paint. The Panthers scored 24 points off 13 Middle Tennessee turnovers.
Leading by as many as 11 points, FIU held off Middle Tennessee as the Blue Raiders could only get as close as two points before Smith hit the two free throws to ice the game.
With the win, FIU notched its 18th win of the season - the fourth-most in school history - and increased the Panthers' SBC Tournament record to 9-13 all-time.
The win snapped the nation's longest winning streak of 17 games as the Panthers handed the Blue Raiders their first loss since Jan. 3 (66-60 OT at Arkansas State). It also snapped an eight-game losing skid for the Panthers to the Blue Raiders and improved FIU to 1-1 all-time in the SBC Tournament versus Middle Tennessee.
The Panthers will take on the winner of the Arkansas State-WKU semifinal contest in the SBC Finals on Monday, March 11. Game time is set for 7:00 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on ESPN.
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