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March 12, 2013Despite four Panthers scoring in double-figures, the FIU men's basketball team (18-14) fell to the WKU Hilltoppers (20-15), 65-63, in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament Finals on Monday night at Summit Arena.
Making the program's first-ever SBC Finals game, FIU was led by senior Cameron Bell, who notched a team-high 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the floor and 4-of-5 shooting from the free-throw line. The West Bloomfield, Mich., native also notched two assists and one blocked shot in 12 minutes of action.
Junior Malik Smith scored 14 points, shooting 5-of-16 from the floor and 4-of-13 from 3-point range. With four treys in the contest, the Boston, Mass., native set the SBC Tournament record for 3-pointers, converting 14 during FIU's three games.
Freshman Jerome Frink added 13 points and grabbed five rebounds, while junior Tymell Murphy registered his eighth double-double of the season, scoring 11 points and grabbing a team-high 10 rebounds.
Sophomore Deric Hill recorded a game-high six assists as the Miami native notched 19 swipes for the tournament.
Looking to make its first berth in the NCAA Tournament since the 1994-1995 season, FIU took a two-game winning streak into Monday's championship game. Falling behind early, the Panthers went on an 11-0 run to take a 13-9 lead with 13:32 left in the first half. FIU maintained its lead over the next three minutes, extending its advantage to eight points, 19-11, following a trey by Bell with 10:33 on the clock.
WKU responded with a 9-0 run to regain the lead, 22-19. Murphy scored four-consecutive points for the Panthers as FIU took a 23-22 lead with 6:09 left in the first half. The Hilltoppers' Caden Dickerson gave WKU a 25-23 lead following a 3-pointer with 4:35 on the clock and would go on to hold the lead as both teams entered halftime, 31-29.
The Hilltoppers would hold their lead through the entire second half to go on for the 65-63 win. FIU hung around and kept it close, cutting WKU's lead to two points, twice, in the final 30 seconds of play. But, the Panthers could not regain the lead, falling to the Hilltoppers for the sixth time in the SBC Tournament.
FIU finished the contest shooting 38.7 percent from the floor (24-of-52) and 25.9 percent from 3-point range (7-of-27). The Panthers held a 35-34 edge in rebounding and forced 18 WKU turnovers resulting in 22 points for FIU.
WKU converted 46.9 percent of its shots from the floor (23-of-49) and 40.0 percent of its shots from 3-point land (6-of-15).
Hill and Smith Earn All-SBC Tournament Honors
For their play during FIU's run in the 2013 Sun Belt Conference Tournament, sophomore Deric Hill and junior Malik Smith were named to this year's SBC All-Tournament Team.
Through FIU's three games in this year's tournament, Hill averaged 10.7 points-per-game and 4.7 rebounds-per-game. The Miami native amassed a team-high 19 assists and 11 steals. Hill shot 84.2 percent from the free-throw line (16-of-19), including a crucial 10-of-11 performance from the line versus Middle Tennessee in the SBC Semifinals.
Smith finished the tournament, averaging a team-best 17.7 points-per-game. The Boston, Mass., native set an SBC Tournament record for 3-pointers made, draining 14 treys on the weekend. Smith's 8-of-10 performance from beyond the arc versus UALR in the SBC Quarterfinals were key in the Panthers' 69-54 win over the Trojans.
2013 Sun Belt Conference All-Tournament Team
Brandon Peterson - Arkansas State
Malik Smith - FIU
Deric Hill - FIU
Brandon Harris - WKU
George Fant - WKU
Most Outstanding Player
T.J. Price - WKU
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