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Men’s basketball faces tough 3-game stretch

<p>Senior guard Mekhi Lairy guards Akron&#x27;s Xavier Castaneda during Miami&#x27;s Feb. 6 loss to Akron.</p>

Senior guard Mekhi Lairy guards Akron's Xavier Castaneda during Miami's Feb. 6 loss to Akron.

The Miami University men’s basketball team is in the midst of a tough stretch going into the month of March.

First, the team hosted Buffalo Tuesday night. Despite 22 points each from the team’s dynamic backcourt, senior Mekhi Lairy and junior Dae Dae Grant, the team lost 86-84.

Senior forward Precious Ayah picked up his second foul early in the game, which led head coach Jack Owens to sit him for the rest of the first half. Buffalo capitalized by immediately going on a 14-0 run, giving the team a 21-7 lead.

The RedHawks got right back into it, though, as a 3-pointer by Grant gave the team its first lead of the game with seven minutes left in the first half.

The Bulls led 45-40 at halftime, then proceeded to extend its lead to 12 behind Owens called timeout after only a minute had elapsed in the second half.

With under 14 minutes remaining, Owens took senior forward Dalonte Brown out of the game. Brown, who previously missed five games with an ankle injury, didn’t return to the game until there was only two seconds left.

In his absence, Miami managed to tie the game before Buffalo senior forward Jeenathan Williams hit a tough floater with four seconds to go.

Brown, the inbounder, passed the ball to Grant in the left corner. He put up a three, but the shot fell harmlessly against the front of the rim.

The loss knocked the RedHawks down to 6-10 in the Mid-American Conference (MAC), good for seventh in the conference standings. Only the top eight teams in the MAC advance to the conference tournament, which starts March 10, and four teams are right on Miami’s tail with five conference wins.

The RedHawks will face one of those teams, the Central Michigan Chippewas, this Thursday. Central Michigan is in eighth place, but a loss Thursday would make it easier for teams below them to jump ahead in the standings. The teams will get a good look at each other for next Tuesday's matchup between the two teams in Mount Pleasant, Mich.

The Chippewas are in a funk, as they’ve lost their last five games. Without a win since Feb. 8, Central Michigan will be hungry to keep its spot in the MAC Tournament.

“It’s definitely gonna be a hard-fought game… a game that we need to win to improve our seed for sure,” Owens said.

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If Miami wants to make the conference tournament, Thursday’s contest is an important game. After that, the team travels to Northern Ohio to face the Toledo Rockets. The Rockets, who are tied for first in the MAC, have lost only one home game this year.

Saturday’s game, which tips off at noon, will be aired on ESPNU. This is the second time the RedHawks have been featured on national TV this season.

The contest will mark the third game in five days for the RedHawks, a rarity in college basketball. The Chippewas were originally supposed to come to Oxford Jan. 1, but the game was postponed.

“(It’s an) NBA schedule,” Owens said. “It’s not a lot of practice, but a lot of games in a short period of time. We’re gonna have to be sharp and rely on our defensive principles and be able to execute on the offensive end, because there’s not gonna be a lot of practice time, unfortunately.”

To feel good about its chances of making the MAC Tournament going into the final week of the season, Miami needs to win one of its next two games.

Players to Watch

Brown is still working his way back from his ankle injury. After playing 32 minutes per game in MAC play before going down against Ball State, he’s played just 21.5 minutes per game since returning to the lineup.

When Brown sits, Owens opts to play a traditional big man at the four spot. Redshirt senior forward James Beck has picked up the slack in the scoring and rebounding departments, as he scored 13 points and grabbed 5 boards in Tuesday’s loss.

Sophomore forward Kamari Williams has come into his own in February. The Boston College transfer has started 3 games this month, averaging 21 minutes per game during the stretch. He scored 11 points and 12 rebounds against Buffalo, along with tough defense. 

Though the RedHawks usually like to have three of Grant, Lairy, redshirt junior guard Myja White and redshirt senior guard Isaiah Coleman-Lands playing at the same time, Williams is needed when facing teams with size like the Bulls.

The Chippewas may pose the same problem, as three of its starters are above 6’6”. The team also has 6’11” Harrison Henderson coming off the bench, who averages 10.2 points per game and 4.5 rebounds per game.

The Rockets are a more guard-heavy unit, as three of its starters are 6’4” or below. This includes the team’s leading scorer, sophore Ryan Rollins. Rollins, who was named MAC Freshman of the Year in 2021, has hit another level this season. He’s averaging 19 points per game and 6.1 rebounds per game, shooting 47.6% from the field.

The team also has good post players. Junior forwards Setric Millner, Jr. and JT Shumate combine to average 29.9 points per game and 12.2 rebounds per game. Shumate, the team’s tallest starter, has made over half of his 3-pointers (50.4%) on 115 attempts.

Toledo has kept the same starting five all season and all five starters average over 30 minutes per game. The Rockets only have two bench players who play more than 10 minutes per game, so expect the team to rely heavily on its starters against the RedHawks.

SCOUTING REPORT

Game 1

Central Michigan Chippewas @ Miami RedHawks

Tipoff: 7 p.m. Thursday (2/24) at Millett Hall

MIAMI REDHAWKS

Record: 12-14, 6-9 MAC

Offense: 75.6 ppg

Defense: 73.0 ppg

Projected Lineup

Mekhi Lairy (guard, 5’8”, 14.3 ppg)

Dae Dae Grant (guard, 6’2’’, 17.3 ppg)

Myja White (guard, 6’1’’, 34.8 3-pt fg%)

Dalonte Brown (forward, 6’7’’, 12.2 ppg)

Precious Ayah (forward, 6’6’’, 66.4 fg%)

Central Michigan Chippewas

Record: 6-19, 5-9 MAC

Offense: 65.4 ppg

Defense: 78.5 ppg

Projected Lineup

Kevin Miller (guard, 6’0”, 12.7 ppg)

Cameron Healy (guard, 6’3”, 11.1 ppg)

Brian Taylor (forward, 6’6”, 5.3 rpg)

Ralph Bissainthe (forward, 6’7”, 6.3 rpg)

Nicolas Pavrette (center, 6’11”, 2.2 rpg)

Game 2

Miami RedHawks @ Toledo Rockets

Tipoff: Noon Saturday (2/26) @ John F. Savage Arena (ESPNU)

Toledo Rockets

Record: 22-6, 14-3 MAC

Offense: 80.4 ppg

Defense: 68.4 ppg

Projected Lineup

Rayj Dennis (guard, 6’2”, 12.5 ppg)

Ra’Heim Moss (guard, 6’4”, 5.3 rpg)

Ryan Rollins (guard, 6’4”, 19 ppg)

Setric Millner, Jr. (forward, 6’7”, 14.5 ppg)

JT Shumate (forward, 6’7”, 50.4 3-pt fg%)

@LukasTheDream

nelso156@miami0h.edu

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