Ayah’s career night lifts Miami past Ball State

Miami’s Precious Ayah couldn’t have picked a better time to have his best game.

The RedHawks’ third-year sophomore forward set career highs in points, rebounds and minutes while filling in for injured starter Dalonte Brown and Miami scored its last 11 points on free throws in the final 8:21 to hold off Ball State for a 69-66 Mid-American Conference win before a crowd of 1,871 at Millett Hall on Tuesday night.

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Ayah, who missed his entire freshman season with an injury and played in 15 games last season, piled up 11 points and 13 rebounds – tying Miami’s individual season high against Division I opponents – after Brown left the game with what coach Jack Owens described as a hip pointer in the first two minutes.

“Coach always is telling you that you’ve got to be ready when your name is called,” the 6-foot-6 Nigeria native said. “My name was called.”

“He stuck with it,” Owens said. “To do what he did tonight – I’m proud of him.”

Miami (14-12, 6-7 MAC East Division) sank just five field goals in the second half, none in the last 11:35, and allowed the Cardinals to chip a 15-point second-half lead down to one, but the RedHawks compensated by making 11-of-12 free throws down the stretch. Junior forward Bam Bowman made four straight before freshman guard Mekhi Lairy rattled in two with 3.0 seconds left, and Ball State missed a makeable 3-pointer at the buzzer, allowing Miami to avoid a second consecutive overtime game.

“I didn’t want that ball to go in,” Ayah said. “It was a long game, and I was ready to go home. You have to stay the course. It’s never going to be smooth.”

“We had some guys playing out of position, but the guys found a way to win,” Owens said. “The free throws were unbelievable. I liked how they shot those free throws with confidence.”

Sophomore guard Nike Sibande scored a game-high 17 points for Miami, including the last field goal, a 3-pointer. The 6-8 Bowman finished with 12 points. The RedHawks led the rest of the way after taking a 12-10 lead on an Ayah tip-in with 12:37 left in the first half.

Senior guard Tayler Persons scored 16 points to lead Ball State (14-12, 5-8 MAC West), which had won three straight games after a four-game losing streak, including a 71-65 loss to Miami in Muncie, Ind., on Jan. 22.

The RedHawks, who went into Tuesday’s game in position to host a MAC Tournament first-tournament game, play at Akron on Saturday and at Bowling Green on Tuesday before returning home to meet Buffalo on March 1 and Kent State on March 5. The Buffalo game originally was scheduled for March 2 before being moved. The RedHawks beat Akron, 68-61, and Bowling Green, 67-53, at Miami earlier this season.

Ayah and Bowman each scored eight points to help Miami take a 41-35 halftime lead. Fifth-year senior guard Abdoulaye Harouna, who scored a season-high 17 points in the RedHawks’ 84-79 overtime loss at Western Michigan on Saturday, hit a 3-pointer to give them their largest first-half lead, 24-14, with 9:08 left before halftime. Miami shot .531 (17-of-32) from the field in the first half. Ball State, which went into the game tied for first in the MAC with a .478 field-goal percentage, shot 40 percent (12-of-30) before halftime.

The Cardinals finished with a .393 shooting percentage.

“You always hang your hat on defense,” Owens said. “We’ve improved over the last couple of months.”


Miami at Akron, 2 p.m., 980, 1450

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