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Wright State controls the paint, hands Miami a season-opening loss

Mekhi Lairy is a full foot shorter than Wright State’s 6-foot-8 center Loudon Love. Yet, for Miami on Saturday, Lairy provided the only chance to keep up with the Love-led Raiders in the second half.

He scored 10 consecutive RedHawk points and spurred a 10-2 run to cut his team’s deficit from 13 to only five with six minutes left.

Trailing by at least 10 since a Love layup started the second half, Miami capitalized on The Lairy Show and hung tight with Wright State the rest of the way.

But Miami still couldn’t find an answer for Love and his fellow Raiders in the paint, and lost, 88-81, at Millett Hall.

They outscored the RedHawks, 54-36, inside.

“I just thought Wright State came out and played harder than us,” head coach Jack Owens said.

Lairy posted a career-high 21 points, falling behind only junior guard Nike Sibande’s 24 for the team lead.

Love also eclipsed his career-high scoring total, piling on 27 points. He added 16 rebounds (nine offensive) to complete a double-double. He almost outrebounded the RedHawks by himself, as the Raiders won, 33-19, on the boards.

“That’s the first time we’ve been outrebounded like that — and, obviously, talking about last year — in a long time,” Owens said. “Love is just a load for us inside.”

Miami waited only 12 seconds before scoring its first points of the season.

Junior forward Dalonte Brown, standing at the top of the key, lofted an alley-oop pass to Sibande, who slammed it down for a 2-0 lead.

After some back-and-forth play set Miami’s advantage at 10-9, the RedHawks rattled off nine of the next 11 points to take a 19-11 lead.

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That’s when their momentum stopped.

A layup by freshman guard Tanner Holden made it 20-19 and gave Wright State its first lead of the contest.

Scoring his first points since a season-ending leg injury last December, redshirt sophomore guard Isaiah Coleman-Lands hit a three to put Miami back ahead.

The Raiders responded with a 3-pointer of their own on their next possession. They went ahead, 23-22, and controlled the rest of the half. 

Wright State held a 12-point lead before redshirt junior guard Milos Jovic made a buzzer-beating three to cut Miami’s deficit to 49-40 at halftime.

To open the second, Love converted on a layup attempt and boosted the Raiders’ lead to double-digits. It stayed there for more than 10 minutes until Lairy started Miami’s comeback run.

“Our coaches and our team, even if they were on the bench, kept a positive attitude and just brought the fight,” Lairy said. 

With 44 seconds remaining, Coleman-Lands made another three, bringing the score to 82-79 — one possession.

Coleman-Lands intentionally fouled senior guard Cole Gentry on Wright State’s next possession, and Gentry went 2-of-2 at the charity stripe.

Then, Lairy dribbled the ball up the court but fumbled it, leading to a Raiders’ steal, another Coleman-Lands intentional foul and two more successful free throws from Gentry.

Those shots iced the game at 86-79 with 29 seconds left.

Each team added a layup before the final buzzer, but Wright State closed out an 88-81 victory.

Senior forward Bam Bowman and redshirt freshman guard Myja White left the game with injuries in the first half, but both returned in the second. After the game, Owens said White passed his concussion test. Owens said he wasn’t sure if Bowman’s left knee injury would affect him going forward.

The RedHawks go to Purdue Fort Wayne on Wednesday at 7 p.m. They’ll be looking for their first win.