Offense clicks early as MU downs Little Rock
By MIKE SMITH
OXFORD, OH -- Good starts have been hard to come by for the Miami RedHawks basketball team so far this year, but MU got out of the gates quickly Saturday, and that launched the RedHawks on the way to an eventual 80-67 over Little Rock at Millett Hall. It was Miami's second win of the season and followed three straight losses to strong opponents last week.
"It was really good to get out and practice this week," said Miami Coach Travis Steele, whose squad had more time for instructive practice leading up to the Little Rock matchup. "We had three good days of practice," Steele continued. "I thought we really cleaned up our offensive end. I thought our ball (movement) ws the best it's moved all year."
Senior guard Mekhi Lairy led the way with 25 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds. He was joined . . .
. . . in double figures by Billy Smith (18), Anderson Mrambeaux (12) and Ryan Mabry (12).
Morgan Safford, injured in Miami's only other win - an 87-44 victory over Goshen College (Ind) back on Nov. 12-- returned to the lineup and narrowly missed double figures. He scored nine points, grabbed a game-high seven rebounds and dished out five assists in 35:38 of play.
"It was nice having Morgan out there. He just gives you that poise," Steele said. "That's a heck of a (stat) line, and he guarded the other team's best player, as well."
Miami never trailed and quickly established an 11-point lead. Mirambeaux hit the first basket at 19:23, but freshman forward Billy Smith took over for the next five minutes. He drained five straight 3-point attempts, accounting for 15 RedHawks points on the way to a 19-8 MU advantage.
"Billy is a terrific shooter," Steele said. "Billy got us off to a great start. ... We have all the confidence in the world in him shooting the ball."
Miami led by 16 (28-12) midway through the period and extended the lead to as many as 18 before taking a 43-27 lead to the locker room. As a team, Miami hit 64 percent (16-of-25) from the field overall and 9-of-16 from beyond the arc in the first 20 minutes. Little Rock, meanwhile, shot 36.4 percent (12-of-33) from the floor and 10 percent (1-of-10) on triples.
To a degree, the success reversed in the second half as the Trojans would connect on 61.9 percent from the floor, including 5-of-12 (41%) from beyond the arc. Miami would fall to 34.8 percent overall and 31.3 percent on treys in the final stanza.
Little Rock was down 17 points (52-35) when it went on an 11-0 run to pull within six (52-46) with 13:46 remaining. However, MU responded with 10 straight points. Mirambeaux started the run with two free throws and Lairy hit two triples while providing the next eight points. The fifth-year senior, who came in averaging 15.6 ppg,, hit 4-of-9 triples on the night, including 3-of-7 after intermission.
"I was really proud of Mekhi," Steele said. "He didn't force things in the first half ... (and) he had a couple of incredible passes to Billy."
Miami maintained a double-digit lead the rest of the way, with Little Rocket never getting closer than 11 points -- and that was in the final minute. The RedHawks made 16-of-17 free throws in the second half to help sustain their cushion.
Guard D.J. Smith led Little Rock with 18 points. Nigel John (17) and Myron Gardner (12) also reached double figures.
~~ This was the first meeting between the two programs. Little Rock, a long-time member of the Sunbelt Conference, is now playing in the Ohio Valley Conference. It entered the game 6-7 against Mid-American Conference foes.
~~ Turnovers were nearly equal, with the Trojans committing 11 to Miami's 12. However, Little Rock's pressure defense did record 10 steals.
~~ Rebounds were also nearly equal, with Miami holding a 28-27 edge.
~~ Little Rock's high pick and roll efforts in the second half helped it gain a 28-18 advantage in points in the paint. MU had the edge in bench points, 16-10.
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.