Precious Ayah asked Miami’s head coach to take him out of the game.
Jack Owens said no.
Due to a short bench and Ayah’s solid paint play, Owens needed the redshirt junior forward to tough out his lack of energy and stay on the court.
Saturday, all of the RedHawks had to tough it out. They dealt with injuries and foul trouble against the Mid-American Conference West Division-leading Huskies.
Miami overcame it all, defeating Northern Illinois, 65-60, Saturday at Millett Hall.
“Great game,” Owens said. “Just proud of our guys’ fight. The guys just stayed together.”
Despite missing junior forward Dalonte Brown (knee injury) and junior guard Nike Sibande (flu), the RedHawks started quickly, riding the energy of the season-high 3,831 people at Millett Hall.
“We had a great crowd,” Owens said. “This is something, hopefully, we can continue to build and have. You can just feed off the energy, you know what I mean? Our guys were excited. When you see people in the stands, and you’re at home and you have a great opportunity to win, this is what it’s all about.”
Miami, on the back of sophomore forward Eli McNamara, scored the first five points of the game. After that, the RedHawks never trailed, possessing at least a two-point lead for more than 39 minutes.
The Huskies responded, pulling within two (9-7) before Miami added five straight points. It kept Northern Illinois at a distance for the remainder of the first half and took a 31-27 advantage into intermission.
The second half featured Miami runs and Northern Illinois counters.
Miami leaped all the way to a 60-53 lead, but the Huskies bounced back to make it 60-58.
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Freshman guard Dae Dae Grant hit a free throw for the RedHawks, and his teammates, redshirt sophomore guard Isaiah Coleman-Lands, made two more to put them ahead by 5.
After an NIU bucket, Coleman-Lands clinched the 65-60 victory with two free throws.
“They felt great, to be honest” he said. “As everyone probably knows, we’ve had some free-throw shooting woes recently. It felt good to kind of put that behind us.”
“I was thanking God [when the first free throw dropped],” Owens said.
Coleman-Lands led Miami with 15 points and finished second on the team with five boards. Three other RedHawks reached double figures: Grant (11), McNamara (10) and senior forward Bam Bowman (10).
In 19 minutes, Ayah put up eight points and eight rebounds.
Per usual, Northern Illinois senior guard Eugene German scored a game-high 21 points. He leads the MAC in average points per game.
Yet, the RedHawks caused him to be less efficient than he would’ve liked. He converted eight of his 20 shots from the field. Owens told them in the leadup to the game, if German was going to drop 20 points, they better make him attempt at least 20 shots.
“He’s definitely the head of the snake, but they’re a good team all around,” Coleman-Lands said. “He’s obviously the main focus, but we just had to make it a team effort to stop him. We had to pack it in and make other guys beat us. Tonight, it worked.”
Miami now enters its bye week and will not play until next Saturday in Akron. The RedHawks’ battle with the Zips is scheduled for 4 p.m. and will air on ESPN3.