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College Basketball: Northern Kentucky pulls away late to top Miami

Jack Owens recently lamented a Miami free throw-shooting slump.

The RedHawks snapped out of that slump Sunday at Northern Kentucky University, making 20-of-22 for a season-high 90.9 percent, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the Norse shooting 15-of-30 from the field in the second half on the way to a 72-66 win at BB&T Arena.

“It was a battle,” Miami coach Jack Owens said. “We have to do a better job of finishing off the game, offensively and defensively.”

The loss snaps Miami’s win streak at three. The RedHawks (6-5) had won four out of their last five, while NKU (9-3) saw a losing streak stopped at two games before an appreciative crowd of 3,100 in the 9,400-seat arena.

Sophomore guard Nike Sibande scored 13 points, including 7-of-8 free throws, and sophomore forward Dalonte Brown added 12 for Miami. They were the only two RedHawks to reach double figures, while four Norse reached that level – Drew McDonald with 21, 14 in the second half, Zaynah Robinson with 19, Tyler Sharpe with 15 and Dantez Walton with 10.

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Miami’s field-goal percentage was hovering around 33 percent for most of the game before finishing at 39.2. The RedHawks were 6-for-25 (24 percent) on 3-pointers, including 1-of-11 in the second half. Their single-game season lows are five 3-pointers and a 23.8 percentage.

“I just think we weren’t executing and hitting shots we normally hit,” said Sibande, who finished 3-of-9 overall and 0-for-5 on 3-pointers.

Miami has been focusing on free throws in practice, Sibande said.

“We’re definitely more comfortable,” he said. “The more reps you get, the more comfortable you are.”

Owens didn’t think rust was an issue in Miami’s first game since Dec. 8, a layoff for finals.

“It is what it is,” Owens said. “Every team goes through it. For the most part, I thought we did a good executing our offense. Some shots just didn’t go down.”

The RedHawks are scheduled to return to their home court at Millett Hall on Thursday for the first of four straight home games. After meeting South Carolina State, Miami is off until taking on Evansville on Dece. 30 in the non-conference regular-season finale. Then the RedHawks open Mid-American Conference play with home games against Central Michigan on Jan. 5 and Northern Illinois on Jan. 8.

The Norse, a former NCAA Division II team who reached the Division I tournament last season, are the second Horizon League faced this season by Miami. The RedHawks edged Wright State, 65-62, on Dec. 5.

NKU led by as many as seven points twice in the second half, the second while Robinson was personally outscoring Miami, 7-3. The RedHawks cut the lead to 66-64 before the Norse went 6-for-6 from the line in the final 41.3 seconds.

Junior Bam Bowman, already wearing a black sleeve on his right knee, left the game in the first minute of the second half after being injured while chasing a loose ball. He returned after the under-16 minute media timeout and immediately contributed an offensive rebound and layup to cut the Norse lead to 42-39 with 15:02 left in the game.

“I think he just banged his knee,” Owens said.

Miami enjoyed a seven-point lead midway through the first half before NKU put together a 9-2 run for a 22-22 tie in a first half that featured 10 lead changes and six ties before ending with the RedHawks leading, 34-33. Harouna came off the bench to lead Miami with eight points. Sharpe sank three 3-pointers, two shy of matching his single-game career high, on his way to 11 points before halftime.

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