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Men's basketball "right on par" after Owens' second season

Matt Heckert - The Miami Student
Matt Heckert - The Miami Student

The Miami RedHawks endured a blowout defeat to end their season, but that shouldn't define the year as a whole, head coach Jack Owens said.

With the 80-51 loss to the Akron Zips in the first round of the Mid-American Conference Tournament on March 11, the season didn't finish where the RedHawks had hoped.

They won't go to a postseason invitational tournament.

"We could've done those things, but we're too banged up right now," Owens said. "We have back issues from a couple guys. Obviously, if you're going to the NCAA Tournament or the NIT (National Invitation Tournament), you'd do it. But, we're banged up."

Regardless of the final landing spot, Owens' players made strides throughout the year.

"I think we were right on par," Owens said. "With the injury to [sophomore guard Isaiah Coleman-Lands] and things like that, once the season got going, we knew it was going to be a challenge because of our lack of depth at the guard and shooting."

Coleman-Lands, an integral part of Miami's 2017-2018 squad, played just five games due to a leg injury. As the RedHawks' top returning 3-point shooter, he was sorely missed, as their shooting percentage from deep fell to 32.3 percent from 34.3 percent a season ago.

"I do [think a healthy Coleman-Lands would've given the team a boost]," Owens said. "He's a guy that some people might look and say, 'He's not a starter or this and that.' But he's a big piece to what we had going on because he can play multiple positions, and he shoots 40 percent from three. But he also knows the game and has that understanding."

The minutes vacated by Coleman-Lands were picked up by a host of other Miami guards. Redshirt senior Abdoulaye Harouna, redshirt sophomore Milos Jovic and freshman Mekhi Lairy were the main beneficiaries, with all three averaging over 10 minutes a game. None of them played a single minute for the RedHawks last season.

When Coleman-Lands went down for good right before the start of MAC play, Miami was trending in a positive direction. The RedHawks finished their out-of-conference schedule with eight wins for the first time since 1995-1996.

After his injury, they struggled.

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Miami lost its first four MAC games before finally pulling out a victory over Akron.

"I thought we were giving up -- I know we were giving up a lot of points, 80-plus points," Owens said. "I think the stretch after that, we really bought in, and the guys really defended well."

The RedHawks finished the season as the fourth-best defensive team in their league, allowing 69.8 points per game.

Including the Akron victory, Miami rattled off three consecutive victories to leap back into contention. At the start of the run, Owens inserted Harouna into the starting lineup and made sophomore guard Jalen Adaway the sixth man -- typically Coleman-Lands' role.

Adaway's minutes dropped by almost four minutes a contest, and his points declined by a point a game. He took 33 less shots than his freshman campaign.

On Friday, Adaway announced on social media that he will transfer this offseason.

Aside from Adaway's slight drop-off, many of the other RedHawks struggled with consistency.

The team went 4-8 after the three-game win streak and lost its last four games, including the MAC Tournament matchup with Akron.

"Overall, we have to become more consistent," Owens said. "I think we'll get that. We have a mixture of young guys and some older guys, but our young guys have been the core since we've gotten here. Hopefully, those guys, who are becoming juniors, will be able to provide the leadership and things we've talked about and tried to establish right away."

Two of the rising juniors Owens referenced were guard Nike Sibande and forward Dalonte Brown. Both faced up-and-down periods throughout the season but finished as Miami's two leading scorers and two of the top three rebounders.

But if one player's refinement defined the season and gave hope for the future, it was Bam Bowman's. The junior forward paced the team in rebounding and was its third-leading scorer. Other than his last two games, when he scored a combined three points, Bowman became a go-to offensive weapon in the post.

"I thought Bam was the most improved guy in our league, if you ask me," Owens said. "I know his last two games didn't go the way he'd probably like, but Bam improved more than anyone as a complete player. Offensively and defensively, I just thought he got better and better."

Owens says he expects this season to help the RedHawks' development going forward. His teams' records have both been two games below .500 in each of his first two seasons in Oxford.

"I think our team will definitely learn from this year," Owens said. "Hopefully, it'll help us in the future because the league was older and things like that."