Senior forward Dalonte Brown didn’t know until Friday that he’d be playing against the Bowling Green Falcons Saturday afternoon.
Brown had been out the last five games with an ankle injury, which he sustained against the Ball State Cardinals on Jan. 25.
“Coach O wanted to see how it felt. I told him despite the little pain that I got going through it, I feel like I can manage it,” Brown said.
The Miami University men’s basketball team lost that night, as well as its next four games as Brown continued to nurse his injury. The RedHawks barely squeaked by Western Michigan, a team with zero Mid-American Conference (MAC) wins to its name, Tuesday night.
“I feel like the guys, when I was out, I feel like they went into a slump,” Brown said. “I just feel like me being back brought the energy back more.”
Everything fell into place with Brown (and redshirt senior forward James Beck) back in the lineup on Saturday. The ball moved around on offense, finding the team’s shooters for open 3-pointers. In all, Miami had 17 assists on 34 made baskets.
“It was a complete game,” Miami head coach Jack Owens said.
Bowling Green scored the first five points of the game, but senior forward Precious Ayah tied the game with a layup assisted by senior guard Mekhi Lairy.
Brown made his presence felt early on. On defense, he forced Matiss Kulackovskis to travel. Then, an offensive rebound fell into his lap and he put it up and in while being fouled.
Bowling Green continued to hold a slight lead. Junior forward Joe Reece threw down a dunk to put the Falcons up 15-12. Sophomore forward Kamari Williams answered with a 3-pointer, but Reece scored again.
Miami made its run after a Bowling Green three made the score 24-19. Junior guard Dae Dae Grant made a teardrop floater, then Lairy drove to the rim for two. Brown made a layup, then assisted Lairy on a triple. Redshirt senior James Beck scored four straight points to cap a 16-0 run.
The RedHawks controlled the game after that thanks to stellar offense. With under two minutes to go in the first half, Lairy split a pick and roll and drove to the rim. The defense collapsed, so Lairy kicked it to Brown, who was wide open in the right corner.
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The next possession, Grant caught a pass on the right wing and drove inside for two. The bucket was Grant’s 1,000th career point in college.
Grant scored again to put Miami up 47-32 at the end of the first half.
The RedHawks came out firing in the second half as a three by Lairy put the team up by 20. Grant scored, then assisted Williams on a shot from behind the arc. A few possessions later, Grant set up Lairy for his fourth 3-pointer of the game.
Redshirt senior guard Isaiah Coleman-Lands drained a three to give Miami a 32-point lead, its biggest of the night.
The Falcons reduced the deficit, but the RedHawks retained control of the game.
With a minute left, Mekhi Lairy committed a foul on defense, then followed it up with a technical foul. Senior guard Myron Gordon shot four free throws, but only made two of them.
Grant followed up the free throws with a triple to ice the game.
The final score was 94-78.
Lairy, Grant and Brown all played well. The trio scored 24, 19 and 14 points respectively, and Lairy made four of the team’s 11 threes. Ayah recorded a double-double with 10 points and 12 rebounds. In all, 10 RedHawks made it into the scoring column.
Ayah had perhaps the toughest assignment of the day: guarding Bowling Green’s star forward, Daeqwon Plowden. Plowden, who’s averaging 16.2 points per game this season, scored just eight in Saturday’s contest.
“I thought Coach Reynolds had a great idea to start Precious on (Plowden),” Owens said. “Precious did a good job of just making him score over the top.”
With the blowout win, none of the team’s starters played more than 30 minutes. Brown played 16 minutes, as Owens doesn’t want to rush him back to the court.
“It’s tough, because I want him out there,” Owens said. “But we have to be watchful of him… we don’t want him to do something too soon where we lose him for the season.”
Brown doesn’t want the minutes restriction to last very long, though.
“We got a job to do,” Brown said. “We’re trying to get to Cleveland.”
The win came at a perfect time (and opponent) for Miami. The win vaulted them into eighth place in the conference standings, leapfrogging the Falcons. Only the top eight teams make the MAC Tournament in March, which is held at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland.
By the time March rolls around, the RedHawks could be peaking at the perfect time. With Brown and Beck back, Owens said the team’s last practice was the first practice of the season where everyone was healthy.
“We wanna build off of this … we’re gonna take one game at a time, but this was a big win for us,” Owens said.
After the resounding home win, the team heads to Athens to renew the Battle of the Bricks rivalry against the Ohio Bobcats Tuesday night. The game tips off at 7 p.m. and will air on ESPN3.