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Miami holds off Kent State for first conference victory

<p>Junior guard Nike Sibande shoots a jumper against Wright State on Nov. 9, 2019, at Millett Hall. Miami lost the game, 88-81, but Sibande scored 24 points.</p>

Junior guard Nike Sibande shoots a jumper against Wright State on Nov. 9, 2019, at Millett Hall. Miami lost the game, 88-81, but Sibande scored 24 points.

Silence fell over Millett Hall three times in the final 30 seconds of Tuesday night’s game.

And all three times, it worked in favor of the Miami RedHawks.

But before the quiet, Miami led Kent State by 17 points three minutes into the second half. And then, everything came crashing down. The Golden Flashes took a 62-61 lead with four minutes remaining.

Back and forth.

After the silence ceased, Miami held onto a 77-74 victory for its first Mid-American Conference win of the season.

“It was just a great game,” Miami head coach Jack Owens said. “Two great teams went at it. Our guys just found a way to win it in the end … We’ve been on the other side of these games the last three times. We definitely wanted to finish this game off with a win.”

Junior guard Nike Sibande, after a six-point first half, exploded for 19 in the second. He scored 12 of the RedHawks’ final 19 points and finished with a game-high 25.

“[Being a leader] is what my team wants out of me, and that’s what they push me to do,” Sibande said. “They trusted me to make big-time buckets and contribute for them.”

Sibande and his teammates shared the offensive wealth in the first half and locked in on defense. Freshman guard Dae Dae Grant led the team with nine first-half points, while Miami’s defense stuffed the Golden Flashes (13-4, 3-1) for their lowest scoring output in any half this season.

At the break, the RedHawks possessed a 31-21 advantage.

Miami (8-9, 1-3) was cruising. It brought its first-half momentum into the second and extended its lead to a game-high 17 (38-21) three minutes into the half.

Then, the previously-stifling defense loosened just a tad, and Kent State stopped missing shots.

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The Golden Flashes hit their next five 3-pointers to pull within one point, 52-51.

Their hot shooting continued, converting on 61 percent of their shots from the field and 65 percent of their looks from deep in the final period.

After trailing for the entire game, Kent State grabbed its first lead on a 3-pointer by senior guard Troy Simons with four minutes left.

Miami, though not playing bad ball, had collapsed. 

Sibande made a layup to give the RedHawks the lead back.

They lost it again on the next Kent State possession, as the Golden Flashes drained another three.

After back-and-forth play, the silences hit. 

Miami clutched to a three-point lead, after a Sibande layup broke a 71-71 tie, and senior forward Bam Bowman made a free throw.

With 26 seconds left, senior guard Mitch Peterson was wide open in the corner. Kent State got him the ball, and he took a shot to tie the game.


Then, a roar, as the shot went long. Sibande rebounded the ball, hugging it tightly before he was intentionally fouled.

Twenty seconds later, sophomore guard Mekhi Lairy stepped to the charity stripe.

Miami’s cheerleaders hushed the crowd, and it obliged.

Lairy took his time and downed both free throws to make it 77-74.

Kent State had six seconds.

Sophomore guard Anthony Roberts got the ball and sprinted up the court.

He ran to the left wing and fired a potential game-tying three.

Not a sound.

As the ball fell to the right of the rim, the buzzer wailed, and the 784 fans in attendance cheered Miami’s first victory since Dec. 30.

“I said, ‘Thank you, God,’” Owens said of his reaction as the final shot missed.

The RedHawks play their final January road game Saturday at Ball State. The matchup is scheduled to tip off at 1 p.m. and air on ESPN+.