Despite the way the Miami RedHawks hung tough against the best team in the Mid-American Conference, head coach Jack Owens won’t accept any moral victories.
“Yeah, I mean… we know we can compete with any team in this league. That’s not the issue,” Owens said. “We have to be better.”
Still, the way the team battled the Toledo Rockets shows this isn’t the same old Miami RedHawks, who haven’t posted a winning season since 2009.
Toledo made three straight shots from deep to get out to a quick 9-2 lead. The RedHawks answered, as a nice bounce pass from senior forward Dalonte Brown to redshirt sophomore guard Myja White cut the lead to 15-13.
The teams traded baskets for the next six minutes, with sophomore guard Dae Dae Grant generating good looks for the RedHawks with his shooting and passing. Grant finished the game with 14 points and two assists.
With six and a half minutes left in the first half, a 3-pointer from redshirt junior guard Isaiah Coleman-Lands cut the Rockets’ lead to 30-27.
That was as close as Miami got.
Toledo quickly took control of the game, rattling off a 13-0 run. It started with a bucket from junior forward Setric Millner Jr., then a Millner three on a behind-the-back bounce pass from senior guard Marreon Jackson.
Freshman guard Ryan Rollins decided to get into the action, getting a steal and a layup. On the next possession, Rollins assisted a Rocket for another bucket to make the score 43-27.
Redshirt junior forward James Beck scored the last six points for Miami in the first half, cutting the deficit to 45-33 at halftime.
The RedHawks came out with intensity in the second half. Still, the team’s 3-point defense wasn’t good enough to stop Toledo.
Junior forward JT Shumate, on fire for seemingly the whole game, made two shots from behind the arc to start the second half. Rollins and senior guard Spencer Littleson also got into the action, each making a 3-pointer.
Enjoy what you're reading?
Signup for our newsletter
In all, the Rockets were 11-of-23 from behind the arc.
Still, Miami refused to give in. Junior guard Mekhi Lairy threw a bounce pass to White for a corner three. Grant then added two more pull-up treys of his own to cut Toledo’s leads to single digits.
With the RedHawks down 69-60, Lairy made a catch-and-shoot three, then drove to the basket for two more, cutting the lead to just four points for the Rockets.
Toledo’s forward was averaging just nine points per game coming into the night and had made only two of his 13 attempted 3-pointers. Tuesday, though, he was the star for Toledo, and he came up big exactly when the team needed him.
With the Rockets up 71-65, Shumate made a nice post move for the score. The next trip down,
Shumate found himself open for another three, his fifth of the game. Next possession, he went back to the post, getting a bucket and the foul on redshirt senior forward Precious Ayah.
It was a big game for the junior forward, who scored 33 points on a perfect 11-11 from the field (and 5-5 from behind the arc).
“I played the percentages early on, and he made some threes over the top that obviously he doesn’t normally make or take,” Owens said.
The RedHawks answered with a 3-pointer from Coleman-Lands, who was fouled on the shot attempt and converted the free throw. Lairy nailed a pull-up jumper, and Brown drove into the lane for a left-handed layup to make the score 79-75 with just under three minutes left in the game.
Toledo was forced to call a timeout.
Jackson, the veteran point guard, made an acrobatic layup to give the Rockets some breathing room. On the next possession, a baseline out-of-bounds play gave Rollins an open layup, extending the team’s lead to eight.
Beck responded with a post-move score, but the damage was done. Miami was forced to foul the rest of the game, as Shumate scored the last five points for the Rockets.
Lairy was the RedHawks’ leading scorer, with 17 points to go along with a team-high five assists.
Miami’s next game tips off at 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 30 against the Western Michigan Broncos at Millett Hall. The game will be broadcast on ESPN3 and the Miami Radio Network.