Chants fade down stretch in loss to Florida International

Junior forward Malik Smith scored a team-high 21 points to lead three Florida International players in double figures as the Panthers beat Coastal Carolina Saturday night, 87-77, giving 30-year-old Richard Pitino his first win as a college head coach. He is the son of Louisville head coach Rick Pitino.

Senior guard Anthony Raffa scored a career-high 34 points to lead all scorers. Warren Gillis chipped in with 12 points and El Hadji Ndieguene had 10 points for the Chanticleers, who slipped to 2-3 on the season. Florida International is now 1-2.

“We kept trying to fight back but it just got too late,” said Raffa, who leads the team at 25 points a game.

The difference was a late 19-5 first half run and terrific 3-point shooting by the Panthers, who were 8-20 from 3-point range. Smith hit 5-8 and 7-12 shooting overall.  Florida International is a Sun Belt Conference school in Miami, Fla.

The lead changed hands eight times early and neither team was in front by more than five points for most of the first half.  But Smith and Murphy led a 19-5 run late in the half that put the Panthers in front by 13, at 35-22, with 3:00 left in the period. In that run covering 8 minutes, Coastal was held to just a couple of inside buckets.

Smith, Florida International’s leading scorer at 16 points a game, had 13 of his points in the first half. The Chanticleers closed to within 37-31 at the end of the half when Raffa hit a 3-pointer in the closing seconds.

The Panthers started the second half with a 18-8 run that included two 3-pointers and a layup by Smith, putting Florida International in front by its biggest margin of 16 at 55-39, its largest lead of the game. A surge by guards Gillis, Raffa and Greenwood pulled Coastal to within seven, at 60-53 with 10 minutes left.

Florida International still led 80-71 in the final 70 seconds when Raffa stole the ball and took an open 3-pointer that would have trimmed the lead to six. But when the shot missed, Florida International was able to run out the clock for the win.

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