Miami University and Marshall University met at Millett Hall on Thursday to renew a rivalry nearly as old as basketball itself.
Marshall is about three hours down the Ohio River in Huntington, West Virginia. Miami and Marshall first met on the football field back in 1905.
All RedHawk fan eyes were on star senior guard Mekhi Lairy, Miami's primary offensive driver. Despite being just 5-foot-8, he dropped 34 points in a close loss at Georgia on Monday.
The Thundering Herd finished sixth of 14 in the Sun Belt Conference preseason poll this year. First-year Head Coach Travis Steele said after the game that he believed all along that Marshall was more talented than Georgia despite their respective notorieties.
The Thundering Herd certainly looked talented on Thursday.
Marshall took no time at all to find its shooting stroke. Going into the final media timeout of the second half, the Herd’s Kamdyn Curfman snuck behind Lairy as first-year forward Billy Smith tried to inbound the ball. The slick shooting Curfman poked the ball away from Lairy, and immediately ran for the corner. He drilled Marshall’s eighth three pointer of the game to make the score 36-25 Herd.
Kurfman would make another before half. Wyatt Fricks, a forward for Marshall, started 4-4 from beyond the arch. In all, Marshall shot a scorching 9-16 (56.3%) from three in the first half. Miami on the other hand went 3-17 (17.6%) from three and just 10-34 (29.4%) from the floor in the first.
To start the half, it was 45-31 Herd.
It’s almost hard to believe that Marshall scored even more in the second.
The RedHawks went shot for shot with the Herd for the first few minutes of the second half, but it wasn’t long before Marshall started to pull away further.
The first 10 rows of Millett could hear Head Coach Travis Steele reading his team the riot act during the under-eight-minute media timeout, even over the raucous rumblings of the student band. From there it just got worse, as Marshall made basket after basket, no longer playing against Miami, but against the clock as they chased 100.
At some point, Steele got quieter across the court. It wasn’t that he had stopped screaming: he was just starting to lose his voice.
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When the under-four-minute break came around, Steele huddled his coaching staff before he even addressed his team. He wasn’t happy. The players, faces twisted with shame and maybe a little bit of fear, looked dejected as Steele sauntered toward them.
Coming out of that huddle, Miami tightened up defensively. It probably helped that Marshall had its backups on the floor, but the Herd only scored one more basket.
Senior forward Anderson Mirambeaux had a good night, finishing with 19 points and six rebounds on 6-13 shooting, but the 305 pound forward was battling some type of lower body injury all night.
Lairy just couldn’t find an ounce of daylight.
When things started to get desperate in the second half, he started heaving up unlikely threes. The strategy works more often than you’d think for Lairy, but his shot just wasn’t falling on Thursday. He also missed his first free throw of the year to drop his conversion rate to 95.5% from the charity stripe.
The RedHawks were putrid from three. Lairy went 0-6, Smith 0-4, Mirambeaux 1-4 and first-year guards Ryan Mabrey and Eli Yofan combined to go 1-9. Overall, Miami was just 6-32 from behind the arch (18.8%), almost never good enough to win. On one hand, shooting that bad just isn’t sustainable; at some point, the RedHawks will start sinking more shots. But on the other, just the fact that Miami has that type of performance in its bag is kind of disheartening. Miami’s turnover-to-assist ratio, 18-10, wasn’t good either.
“I told our guys that I was absolutely embarrassed with our performance tonight,” Steele said after the game. “Not embarrassed by the result, but just completely embarrassed by our response. We fought back, all of a sudden it was a tie game and we were playing really hard, but then a couple of threes went in and our team really splintered apart.”
It really didn’t feel like a great effort from Steele’s team. It’s surprising, because to this point it seemed like the RedHawks were building a seriously competitive culture around Steele and their three captains Lairy, Mirambeaux and senior transfer guard Morgan Safford. It should be noted that Safford hasn’t seen the floor since he suffered a leg injury in the first game of the year. Junior forward Kamari Williams, one of the only returners who got significant minutes last year, was also out with an injury.
“We’re playing walk-ons, we’re playing a lot of freshmen out there, but they gotta sink or swim,” Steele said after the game. “Tonight, we obviously sunk.”
Steele said that the only bright spot from the game was Wil Stevens, a walk-on senior guard.
“Wil is not very talented,” Steele said. “And that’s no slight on Wil. But Wil plays hard. He loses himself in the game. I know he fouled out, but you could tell he was out there. You felt him. Tonight I didn’t feel a lot of our guys.”At the Miami and Bowling Green volleyball game at Millett the night before Miami played Marshall, there was a moment when the court began to clear out after Miami’s season-ending loss, and Stevens appeared out of nowhere all by himself, basketball in hand.
His presence on the court the next day was really noticeable. He came into the game and immediately committed a foul. Before Marshall could even inbound the ball after that, he committed another, harder one. After that, he never stopped moving. He always had his eyes on either his man or the ball. He scored just one point, pulled down three rebounds and committed fouls one-through-five to foul out. In just nine minutes, Stevens made his mark.
The RedHawks hit the court next on Sunday, November 20, against No. 12 Indiana in Indianapolis. You don’t need me to tell you that this will be a really tough test for Steele’s inexperienced RedHawk squad.