College basketball: Miami comeback fall short vs. Buffalo

Miami University's Dae Dae Grant dribbles the ball defended by University of Cincinnati's Mika Adams-Woods during their basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021 at Millett Hall on Miami University campus in Oxford. University of Cincinnati won 59-58. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

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Miami University's Dae Dae Grant dribbles the ball defended by University of Cincinnati's Mika Adams-Woods during their basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021 at Millett Hall on Miami University campus in Oxford. University of Cincinnati won 59-58. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

OXFORD -- Miami opened the final two weeks of its men’s basketball regular season Tuesday clinging to a Mid-American Conference Tournament berth.

The RedHawks went into their home game against Buffalo seventh in the 12-team MAC, just behind Ball State and just ahead of Central Michigan. Maintaining or improving on their standing was going to prove difficult.

Miami came out of Tuesday’s game still in seventh place after the Bulls fended off a determined comeback bid and escaped with an 86-84 win, avenging a 91-81 loss to Miami on Dec. 29 in the MAC season opener for both teams.

Junior guard Dae Dae Grant scored 17 of his 22 points in the second half and senior guard Mekhi Lairy scored 16 of his 22 points in the last eight minutes as the RedHawks fought back from a 12-point second half deficit to take an 81-80 lead on a Lairy 3-pointer at the shot clock buzzer with 2:23 left in the game, but Jeenathan Williams connected on a jump hook with 3.8 seconds left to give Buffalo (16-8, 10-4) its seventh straight win.

Miami has a home game on Thursday against Central Michigan – postponed from Jan. 1 – along with a game on Saturday at Toledo, which went into the week tied for first place in the MAC with Ohio. The RedHawks also were due to play at Central Michigan next Tuesday before wrapping up the regular season on March 4 against 11th-place Eastern Michigan.

Ball State and Central Michigan both lost. The top eight teams qualify for the conference tournament.

“We’re going to take it one game at a time – one day at a time,” Lairy said after the game about the stretch drive. “We’re going to focus on us and be the best Miami team we can be, and we’ll be fine.”

“I like our team,” fifth-year coach Jack Owens said. “If we stay healthy, we’ll be fine.”

Senior James Beck finished with a season-high 13 points off the bench. Freshman Kamari Williams chipped in with 11 for Miami (12-15, 6-10) as the RedHawks’ bench outscored Buffalo’s, 29-8. The Bulls compensated with advantages of 22-16 in second-chance points and 29-8 in fast break points.

Buffalo, which ended the first half on a 10-4 run, scored the first seven points of the second half to grab a 52-40 lead. Grant, who finished the first half with five points, scored eight in the first seven minutes after halftime to singlehandedly keep Miami in the game.

Precious Ayah scored Miami’s first four points before picking up second foul less than three minutes into the game. Buffalo, leading the MAC in rebounding going into the game with an average of 42.8 rebounds per game, capitalized by dominating the boards while putting together a 14-0 run to open up a 21-7 lead less than seven minutes into the game.

Miami finished with just two fewer rebounds overall and even in offensive rebounds with 15.

“We were being more aggressive,” Lairy said. “They wanted it more. We flipped it in the second half.”

“Rebounding is effort,” Owens said. “It’s ‘want to’ more than anything.”

The RedHawks, who went into the game leading the conference in free throw shooting with a .788 percentage, regrouped behind increased rebounding intensity and going 8-for-9 on free throws to help take their first lead, 28-27, with 6:23 left in the half. Dalonte Brown and Kamari Williams each grabbed offensive rebounds on the same possession to set up Dae Dae Grant’s go-ahead 3-pointer.

The lead changed hands five times down the stretch before the Bulls ended the half with a 10-4 run for a 45-40 halftime lead. Beck ended the first half with a season-high 11 points.

THURSDAY’S GAME

Central Michigan at Miami, 7 p.m., ESPN3, 980, 1450

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