Lairy erupts for 30 as RedHawks nip Knights
By MIKE SMITH
LOUISVILLE, KY -- Coming off a decisive midweek loss at Cincinnati, the Miami RedHawks needed something which has been high on head coach Travis Steele's wish list -- 40 minutes of tough, competitive basketball from his squad.
The RedHawks provided that Saturday, and their intensity . . .
. . . was rewarded with a 71-67 victory over Bellarmine at Freedom Hall. Senior point guard Mekhi Lairy led the way with 30 points, made more remarkable by the fact that he scored his first basket at 6:07 of the first period. He also had five assists and just two turnovers while playing 34 minutes.
Only Morgan Safford logged more time (37 minutes), and the redshirt junior guard was the only other RedHawk to reach double figures. Safford scored 14 points, grabbed five rebounds and recorded two steals.
Both players took advantage of opportunities at the foul line, which has become the RedHawks new "Happy Place." Miami entered Saturday leading the nation in free throw percentage, connecting on 83.63 percent of its tosses. Lairy hit 14-of-16 FT attempts against Bellarmine. Safford made 6-of-7.
As a team, the RedHawks sank 23-of-29 (79.3%). Bellarmine, meanwhile, made 100 percent of its free throws. However, it had just 14 opportunities. The difference helped MU overcome another key stat. The Knights shots 56.1 percent from the field and had 23 made field goals. MU hit 19-of-46 (41.3%) from the floor overall.
Miami did help itself with three more treys, one more rebound and two less turnovers. The RedHawks owned a 26-15 edge in points off turnovers and recorded a 9-3 advantage in second chance points. Bellarmine did more damage in the paint overall, scoring 30 points to Miami's 14.
The Knights led 22-20 in the first half when Lairy tied the game with a layup at 6:07. It was all Lairy from there to intermission as he scored MU's last 15 points of the period. That allowed the RedHawks to take a 35-32 lead to the locker room.
Lairy opened second half scoring with a triple, but the Knights chipped away to take a 42-40 lead on a basket by Ben Johnson at 13:14. It was the first of six lead changes in the second half.
Two Lairy free throws at 6:04 tied the game for the fourth time in the second stanza, this time at 53-all. Bellarmine then threatened to break away, outscoring the visitors 8-2 for a 61-55 lead. However, Miami battled back and regained the lead at 66-65 on a putback by Anderson Mirambeaux.
After a BU miss and turnovers by both teams, freshman Ryan Mabry drained a long 3-pointer from in front of the Miami bench with 18 seconds left. Betz quickly responded with a layup at the other end, but MU sealed its victory with two free throws to close scoring.
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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.