After it lost a nail-biter to Cincinnati in an early December matchup at Millett Hall, the Miami University men’s basketball team looked like it could have NCAA Tournament aspirations.
Cincinnati’s head coach, Wes Miller, said as much after his team’s victory.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if this team is playing in the NCAA Tournament in March,” Miller said.
After that game, however, the RedHawks dropped three of four games in non-conference play. The team lost to Indiana State on the road, then Clemson, despite competing well with the Tigers. The RedHawks also lost to Bellarmine at home before finishing its non-conference slate with a win against Spalding University, a Division III opponent.
Through seven Mid-American Conference (MAC) games, the team has played well at times but has also endured head-scratching stretches. It’s hard to predict which Miami team will show up on a game to game basis. Even within games, the team will disappear for a few minutes at a time, forcing them to play catch-up to stay competitive.
The conference schedule started with a 91-81 at Buffalo, a solid team who knocked the RedHawks out of the MAC Tournament last year.
After an overtime loss on the road to an average Bowling Green team, Miami gave first place Toledo everything it could handle before losing by three points in Millett Hall.
The RedHawks beat the worst team in the conference, Western Michigan by only eight points before hosting the Ohio Bobcats, a veteran team who won an NCAA Tournament game last season. The ’Hawks got handled by the Bobcats and lost 86-63.
Miami’s last two games are a perfect microcosm of the team’s season. Last Saturday, the team slept walked through an afternoon contest against Northern Illinois. The RedHawks were down by 15 points in the second half before mounting a comeback and eventually beating the Huskies in overtime.
“Just happy we were able to find a way, because for about 20 or 30 minutes there, we were just treading in quicksand,” Miami head coach Jack Owens said.
On Tuesday, the team traveled to Ball State to square off against the Cardinals, a 7-10 team who had lost its last three games.
A good team would’ve built off the momentum from its previous win and beaten a struggling, inferior team. Instead, Miami endured an 81-64 loss and shot under 40% from the field.
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Going forward, the RedHawks will have to take care of business against bad teams and play a full 40 minutes against good teams if they want to have a favorable matchup in the conference tournament.
The team’s next matchup will give them a good opportunity to do so. On Saturday, Miami travels to Ypsilanti, Mich. to face the Eastern Michigan Eagles. The Eagles are 7-11 and 2-5 in the MAC, with the squad’s only conference wins coming against its fellow Michigan teams. The team’s latest contest was a road loss to Bowling Green.
Though you never know what to expect when a team plays on the road, Miami should be able to take care of business in Saturday’s matchup.
Players to watch
Junior guard Dae Dae Grant is back at it after being named Third Team-All MAC last season. Grant is averaging 17 points per game and though his 3-point shooting percentage has dipped a little bit, he’s shooting over 45% from the field.
Senior forward Dalonte Brown is having another stellar all-around season. He’s averaging 14.1 points and 6.6 rebounds per game, and is shooting 38.6% from 3-point range.
Brown was the catalyst for Miami’s comeback win over Northern Illinois, leading the team in scoring with 24 points. His 3-point shot with 10 seconds left in regulation sent the game into overtime, where he made another three to win the game with less than a second to go.
First-year Noah Farrakhan, EMU’s leading scorer, didn’t play in the team’s last contest, so it’s unclear if he’ll play Saturday. If he doesn’t play, look for Monty Scott to step into a bigger role. First-year Colin Golson and junior Bryce McBride could also have a big impact on the game.
Tipoff: 3 p.m. Saturday at George Gervin GameAbove Center
Record: 9-9, 3-4 MAC
Offense: 77.2 ppg
Defense: 71.3 ppg
Mekhi Lairy (guard, 5’8’’, 14.1 ppg)
Dae Dae Grant (guard, 6’2’’, 17 ppg)
Myja White (guard, 6’1’’, 42.6 3PT%)
Dalonte Brown (forward, 6’7’’, 12.5 ppg)
Precious Ayah (forward, 6’6’’, 70.3 fg%)
EASTERN MICHIGAN EAGLES
Record: 7-11, 2-5 MAC
Offense: 71.1 ppg
Defense: 74.1 ppg
Bryce McBride (guard, 6’2”, 12.6 ppg)
Darion Sprottsville (guard, 6’4”, 4.3 rpg)
Monty Scott (guard, 6’5”, 13.6 ppg)
Colin Golson Jr. (forward, 6’6”, 9.5 ppg)
Mo Njie (center, 6’10”, 4.8 rpg)