Statistics can be misleading, but sports are funny that way. Just when it looks like everything makes sense, the underdog comes along and throws it back into fantastic chaos.
Monday night in Buffalo, Miami was the disruptive underdog. The RedHawks, who came into the Mid-American Conference Tournament ranked dead-last in the league, knocked off the defending champion Buffalo Bulls on the road.
No. 5 Buffalo squashed the RedHawks twice during the regular season and was the clear favorite entering the first-round matchup. But led by a herculean effort from junior guard Nike Sibande, Miami flipped the script with an 85-79 victory.
But it didn’t start off too well for Miami, as the Bulls (20-11, 11-7 MAC) got the game started with an 8-0 surge. The RedHawk offense finally took off with a short jumper from sophomore big man Eli McNamara, and from there, it was time for the next installment of the Sibande show.
After taking their first lead on a 3-pointer from Sibande, the RedHawks (13-19, 5-13 MAC) blitzed the Bulls’ defense in the final five minutes and went into the halftime locker room with a double-digit lead.
The ’Hawks carried a 10-point advantage after the first 20 minutes, highlighted by Sibande’s 23-point first half, which included a ferocious two-hand jam with a foul for good measure.
However, Buffalo, which came into the game with a 81.8 percent chance to win, according to ESPN, followed the typical byline for MAC games and kept things close in a do-or-die matchup.
The Bulls caught up to the RedHawks within the first five minutes of the second half, and the two squads tugged back and forth with the lead. Neither side gained more than a six-point advantage.
Crunch time rolled around with Miami leading by two in the final minute. Sophomore guard Mekhi Lairy was fouled intentionally and sent to the line, where he sank two free throws to stretch the lead back to four.
The Bulls and RedHawks traded free throws, but Sibande capped his 31-point showing by putting his two final free throws through the bottom of the net, sending Buffalo home stunned and the ’Hawks to the next round of the MAC Tournament.
Sibande set a new career high with 31 points on 10-of-14 shooting from the field (71 percent) and grabbed six boards.
Redshirt sophomore guard Isaiah Coleman-Lands chipped in 13 points, six assists, two steals and a career-high eight rebounds. He also led the team with three made 3-pointers.
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Miami moves onto Cleveland and will headline a Thursday matinee with Northern Illinois. The game will start at 2:30 p.m. and be broadcast via ESPN+.