MU can punch tourney ticket with win at Buffalo
By MIKE SMITH
The Miami RedHawks have worked hard to reach a point where they control their own destiny. Win and they're in!
Into the MAC tournament, that is. Of course, the flip side of that is: Lose and the picture doesn't look nearly as rosy. By winning their fourth straight game Tuesday, the RedHawks (6-11 MAC) are one game in front of three other teams vying for the final MAC tournament playoff spot.
Western Michigan, whom MU defeated 77-72 in Tuesday's action, will finish last among MAC teams and . . .
. . . miss the tourney. However, Bowling Green, Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan all have five wins -- including head-to-head victories over Miami.
For what it's worth, MU's first MAC win came against Buffalo, the RedHawks opponent in Friday's regular season finale. Mekhi Lairy and Anderson Mirambeaux led the way back on January 10, each recording a double-double as Miami posted a 91-80 victory at Millett Hall. Lairy finished with 20 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds. Mirambeaux notched 18 points and 11 caroms. Joining them in double figures were Ryan Mabrey (15 points) and Kamari Williams (14).
Yazid Powell paced the Bulls with 20 points. Armoni Foster was right behind with 19. Curtis Jones just missed a double-double with 12 points and nine boards.
Miami recorded its first MAC win under new Head Coach Travis Steele by outshooting the Bulls 51.7 percent to 46.6 percent. The difference was especially telling beyond the arc as MU hit 11-of-27 (40.7%) and Buffalo went 3-of-17 (17.6%).
There were a couple of troublesome areas for Miami -- issues that have popped up on more than a few occasions. One was turnovers. The other was fouls.
The RedHawks committed 22 turnovers against Buffalo back in January. That eventually led to 27 Buffalo points. Steele would undoubtably like to see a correction, as MU seemed to accomplish over its last two games. Miami posted a win over Ohio last week despite committing 21 turnovers. However, it improved to just nine turnovers Tuesday against Western Michigan.
The other problem area against Buffalo was fouls. Three Miami starters fouled out against Buffalo in the first meeting. Jaquel Morris, meanwhile, acquired four fouls in just 10 minutes off the bench. Not only do the RedHawks lack experienced depth to fill in, the foul-fest provided UB with 38 free throw opportunities. It converted 23.
Miami leads the MAC in free throw percentage (78.0%) and is 10th nationally. So, getting to the line is usually a good thing for the RedHawks -- as long as they are the team getting to the line.
MORE . . .
~~ Jim Whitesell is in is fourth season as head coach of the Bulls. He previously served four years on the coaching staff and succeeded Nate Oats, who took over the Alabama program.
~~ The Bulls (8-9) have already guaranteed themselves a spot in the upcoming MAC tournament. Buffalo has won two of its last three, with victories over Central Michigan (63-35) and Northern Illinois (85-75) sandwiched around a 101-71 loss to Toledo (whichhas won 14 straight).
~~ Buffalo ranks third among MAC teams in scoring (77.9 ppg) and is 10th in scoring defense (77.4 ppg).
~~ UB is connecting on 45.7 percent from the field overall (6th MAC) and is 10th (MAC) on three-point goal percentage (32.4%).
~~ While Miami averages 13.8 turnovers per game (9th MAC), the Bulls are committing 14.3 per contest (11th MAC).
~~ Buffalo is ninth in free throw percentage (69.7%).
~~ Buffalo tops the conference in rebounding (37.8 rpg). MU is 11th (32.2 rpg).
~~ Steele is in his first year as MU head coach. After dropping eight of their first nine MAC outings, the RedHawks have five of their last seven and four straight.
~~ Lairy (17.6 ppg), Morgan Safford (15.3 ppg) and Mirambeaux (14.1 ppg) are averaging double figures in scoring.
~~ The RedHawks are seventh (MAC) is coring (74.0 ppg) and sixth in scoring defense (74.2 ppg).
~~ Miami is fifth in field goal percentage (45.8%) and seventh in three-point goal percentage (34.1%). The RedHawks are fourth in 3-point goals made (8.0 per game), while Buffalo is 10th (7.1 per contest).
~~ Although Miami got away with foul issues and turnovers in the first meeting, the RedHawks might not be so lucky the second time around. They should be especially careful in those areas in the opening minutes of the second half, when fouls have been a particular problem. Morris has a very athletic skill set, but he has to cut down on the fouls.
~~ Ryan Mabry and Kamari Williams have helped with perimeter shooting in recent games.
~~ The Bulls continue their tradition of rebounding production, so MU will need to heed Steele's call to the boards. Leaving it to a couple bigs won't be enough.
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Editor-Publisher Mike Smith
Mike grew up in Mid-American Conference football and basketball territory and returned there after military service. He has been covering MAC football and men's basketball for much of the last several decades.