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Broncos buck ’Hawks

Senior Staff Writer

Published: Thursday, January 31, 2013

Updated: Friday, February 1, 2013 00:02

bball

Ben Taylor | The Miami Student

Miami University freshman guard Reggie Johnson attempts to drive past the Western Michigan defense. Johnson put up five points and is averaging just under nine points per game for the season.

Despite jumping out to a 13-2 lead less than four minutes into the game and forcing 23 turnovers, the Miami University men’s basketball team fell to Western Michigan University Wednesday night 72-68 in a scrappy and hard-fought battle.

Miami (7-12, 2-5 Mid-American Conference) has lost four straight, including three in a row at home. Redshirt junior forward Will Felder made his presence felt, again leading the RedHawks with his second double-double of the season, scoring 17 points and grabbing a season high 13 boards.

Head Coach John Cooper once again shuffled his starting line-up, trying to find a scheme that worked, starting two true freshman guards in Geovonie McKnight and Reggie Johnson. The starting five was noticeably smaller in comparison to the Broncos’ line-up, which featured a frontcourt of three players standing at 6’7”, 6’8” and 6’10”. The gamble paid dividends early, as Miami’s first five baskets came on layups. Sophomore guard Will Sullivan pushed the lead to 11 on a 3-point basket, but a 10-0 run by Western Michigan quickly changed the momentum of the game.

“I wasn’t looking for anything, and I’m not looking to send any messages either,” Cooper said. “I’m going to play the guys that are doing on a consistent level what we’re trying to get done. It doesn’t just happen on just one end of the court. It happens on both ends of the court, but you also have to bring the right mentality on a day-in, day-out basis.”

The first half was tightly contested, with three ties and eight lead changes, but for the first time in six games, Miami had the advantage at the break, 35-32. The ’Hawks held the Broncos to just 20 percent from three range, but still allowed 57 percent from the floor.

The second half saw the Broncos’ offense improve, shooting 60 percent from the field, keeping Miami under pressure to knock down shots. After taking its largest lead of the game, 54-45, Western Michigan struggled to maintain the cushion, as Miami forced turnovers and knocked down free throws to eventually take a one-point lead, 63-62.

However, the closing seconds were detrimental, as missed free throws and poor shot selection doomed Miami.

“We just said to ourselves in practice, ‘We’ve got to start bringing it,’” Felder said. “We feel like the last couple games we fell due to lack of effort. I think the effort was there tonight, but we still didn’t get it. We had some plays down the stretch that we didn’t execute and it cost us. I gave up one big offensive rebound that I feel like was pretty big in the game. It’s plays like that that make you lose by (a few) points.”

Miami posted better statistics in three point percentage and rebounds, but struggled from the floor in the second half, shooting 28 percent, while uncharacteristically shooting 19-30 from the foul line. Miami was plus eight on the boards, 37-29, over a Broncos team that was top 20 nationally in rebounding differential.

“To be honest, I thought they (Miami) outplayed us,” Western Michigan Head Coach Steve Hawkins said. “Our defense was abysmal, but I thought Miami really pushed it and took advantage of it. We just made enough plays at a critical time to pull out the game.”

Miami now heads to Central Michigan University tomorrow for a 7 p.m. matchup. The Chippewas are 9-11 on the year, sharing an identical 2-5 MAC record with Miami. Senior guard Kyle Randall leads Central Michigan with 16.7 points per game. Central is strong at the foul line, shooting 72 percent in comparison to Miami’s 68 percent.

Last season’s meeting was no contest, as Miami cruised to a 19 point victory. Miami will try to avoid eclipsing its longest losing streak of the season, four games, which it suffered once earlier this season and three times last season. Miami is also still battling for its 600th career MAC victory.

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