CONWAY — Senior Anthony Raffa poured in a career-high 34 points on Saturday.
However, it wasn’t enough as the Coastal Carolina men’s basketball team fell to the Florida International Golden Panthers 87-77.
“We kept trying to fight back, but it just got too late,” said Raffa, who leads the Chanticleers at 25 points per game. “It’s a good accomplishment, but I would have liked to have won the game for our team.
“But that obviously didn’t happen. [As for] the scoring? I can’t say anything about that – we lost the game.”
Coastal coach Cliff Ellis had a different perspective on Raffa’s performance.
“Raffa’s points are pretty much what kept us in it,” Ellis said. “Without his points it would have been a lot tougher.”
Junior guard Malik Smith gave the Chants trouble as he scored a team-high 21 points to lead four Golden Panthers in double figures. Tymell Murphy added 15 points, and Joey De La Rosa and Juan Ferrales had 10 points each for Florida International.
“Florida International came in and was very, very aggressive,” Ellis said. “They deserved to win this game. The biggest thing is you can’t turn the ball over like we did and expect to win. It doesn’t matter, those turnovers ended up in points. They outscored us 15-2 in points off turnovers in the first half and that’s the most startling statistic.
“I also thought Malik Smith was a dagger with his 3-point shots. We hard a hard time getting [3-pointers] to fall ourselves.”
The Panthers had a 19-5 first half run and finished the game 8-for-20 from the 3-point line.
“In the first half we were lackadaisical a little bit,” Raffa said.
Florida International started the second half on an 18-8 run and went ahead by 16 with 15:07 remaining, its largest lead of the game. A surge by Raffa, Warren Gillis and Kierre Greenwood pulled Coastal to within seven at 60-53 with 10 minutes left.
Florida International held an 80-71 lead with 1:10 left when Raffa stole the ball and took an open trey that would have cut Coastal’s deficit to six. The shot missed, and the Panthers were then able to run out the clock for the win.
“You can’t always make them all,” Raffa said. “I had a good look and it didn’t go down. We were trying to get back in the game and if I made it maybe [the game] would have changed, but it didn’t go down.”
Said Ellis: “We tried. We had it cut to seven, but every possession you have to fight and they made some plays. We trapped, we gambled with our defense, which got us back into it. Eventually, they were able to get to the foul line and make enough plays to where we could never get it past that three-possession game.”
Meanwhile, Florida International coach Richard Pitino picked up his first win as a college head coach. The 30-year-old Pitino is the son of Louisville coach Rick Pitino.
The Chanticleers are now 2-3 and will try to bounce back on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Boston University.
“Right now we’ve had trouble with teams that press and show two defenses,” Ellis said. “We’re not being aggressive enough in the press and we have too many turnovers. It’s early and we have to learn from it, but we have a brutal schedule ahead of us.”
FIU (1-2): Murphy 7-10 1-1 15, Akomolafe 2-6 2-2 7, De La Rosa 5-5 0-0 10, Belardo 2-6 3-5 8, Smith 7-12 2-2 21, Hill 1-5 4-4 7, Porcher Jimenez 0-0 0-0 0, Frink 4-8 1-2 9, Ferrales 1-3 8-10 10. Totals 29-55 21-26 87.
COASTAL CAROLINA (2-3): Enanga 3-6 1-2 7, Diagne 2-2 0-0 4, Ndieguene 4-10 2-2 10, Raffa 12-23 6-7 34, Greenwood 3-10 2-2 8, Gillis 6-11 0-1 12, Ashford 0-1 0-0 0, Ljeskovic 1-1 0-0 2, Curtis 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 31-64 11-14 77.
Halftime–FIU 37-31. 3-Point Goals–FIU 8-20 (Smith 5-8, Akomolafe 1-1, Hill 1-4, Belardo 1-4, Murphy 0-1, Frink 0-1, Ferrales 0-1), Coastal Carolina 4-16 (Raffa 4-10, Gillis 0-2, Enanga 0-2, Greenwood 0-2). Fouled Out–Frink, Greenwood. Rebounds–FIU 29 (Akomolafe 6), Coastal Carolina 35 (Enanga 10). Assists–FIU 14 (Hill 5), Coastal Carolina 12 (Greenwood 7). Total Fouls–FIU 17, Coastal Carolina 22. A–1,639.
Contact MAX McKINNON at 444-1767.