CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When Florida Atlantic walked out of Cam Henderson Center with a 65-57 victory Feb. 1, coach Mike Jarvis was almost giggling.Nobody could blame him. After a tough loss two days earlier at Charlotte, the Owls took a 14-point lead with 7:52 to go and cruised to the finish.He finished his portion of the postgame press conference exclaiming, "I'm going back to Boca!"He'll go back to Boca Raton, Fla., after the upcoming Conference USA tournament in El Paso, Texas, but he won't return as FAU's coach. As triumphantly as he started February, he ended the month glumly, tendering his resignation effective at season's end.
When Jarvis' Owls will take on Marshall on at 8 p.m. EDT Tuesday in a battle of 10-21 teams, they will do so on a six-game losing streak, one that turned FAU's first C-USA season from a pleasant surprise to general unpleasantness.In Huntington, the Owls shot 53.2 percent and bullied the Herd on the boards. Argentina native Pablo Bertone led the scoring with 20 points, and 6-foot-9 German Justin Raffington had 19 with 10 rebounds."I thought we didn't play well at all," said MU guard Tamron Manning. "Because we came off beating [Florida International], and that was another game we needed to win, [against] FAU. But we came out flat and we lose it."He didn't get a dispute from Herd coach Tom Herrion.
"I was really displeased with our overall effort," he said Saturday. "I didn't think we guarded at all, in our zone. Had trouble with Raffington inside and Bertone got his way, too. We did very little to take away either of their two key options."Defensively, the Owls got the message when Chris Thomas scored 11 points in the first 10-plus minutes and made what Jarvis called a "desperation move" to switch to zone. That forced the Herd to fall into its too-familiar pattern of settling for 3-pointers and not shooting those well.Thursday, as Marshall was ending its regular season with a 74-70 loss to Charlotte, FAU was finding a way to lose by the same score to Florida International. The Owls took a 36-20 lead in the first half but fell victim to a 13-0 run in the second half. Marquan Botley tied the game with two free throws, but FIU closed the game with a layup and a dunk off a turnover.Botley, who had an off night against the Herd, scored a career-high 27 point against FIU and was named C-USA's last freshman of the week. Seven-foot Croatian Dragan Sekelja, who missed the MU trip, has since returned, though he is not a statistical force (4.9 points, 4.9 rebounds per game).
Jarvis enters the tournament 422-314 in his 25 years of head coaching, but just 77-111 at FAU. He took the Owls from 6-26 in 2008-09 to 21-11 in 2010-11, winning the Sun Belt regular-season title before setting for an NIT berth. Since then, his teams have lost 19, 18 and 21 games.That's no comfort for a Marshall team with 40 losses from last season to now."We've got to come out not flat this time and know they're probably going to 2-3 zone us the entire game," Manning said. "Just accept that, and play as hard as we can."
Exactly three Marshall players have participated in the Conference USA tournament - Manning, Yous Mbao and DeVince Boykins."Last year, I was the only player in the room who hadn't played in the Conference USA tournament," Manning said. "It's a change of roles, but I just tell everybody what to expect. It's the same thing as a normal game. We've played FAU before, so we know what to expect.That threesome isn't that well-versed in the tournament, for they have played a combined 21 minutes. That's Mbou 13 over three years, Boykins 10 and Manning eight in MU's loss to Tulane last year. In the triple-overtime win against Tulsa two years ago, Mbao fouled out in just six minutes.But he does have the trio's only point. That means the threesome has yet to score a field goal in a C-USA tournament game.nn
Coincidentally, Marshall's women's team is also playing FAU, but the teams don't have the same record. The 10-19 Herd owns the 16th and last seed, while the ninth-seeded Owls are 16-13.The Herd faces the unwanted fate of being the first team eliminated of the 31 teams in both tournaments. That game tips off at 1 p.m. EDT Tuesday.Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org
or follow him at twitter.com/DougSmock.