In uncertain times, Miami basketball ‘embracing the opportunity’ to open regular season

Miami’s Dalonte Brown looks to put up a shot against Central State on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019, at Millett Hall. Miami Univeristy photo
Miami’s Dalonte Brown looks to put up a shot against Central State on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019, at Millett Hall. Miami Univeristy photo

RedHawks host North Dakota on Wednesday at Millett Hall to kick off 2020-21 campaign

Like every other college basketball team in the country, the Miami RedHawks have been anticipating the start of the 2020-2021 season like high school seniors awaiting the prom.

Barring unforeseen circumstances, a necessary disclaimer in pandemic-cluttered 2020, Miami will start to dance Wednesday at 1 p.m. with its regular-season opener against the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks at Millett Hall in Oxford.

“We’re extremely excited to have the opportunity to play a game,” fourth-year Miami coach Jack Owens said on Monday during a Zoom media session. “Since March 12, it’s been hit or miss. We’re embracing the opportunity.”

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The last time the RedHawks faced a team wearing a different uniform, junior guard Nike Sibande scored a career-high 31 points to lead Miami – seeded 12th in the 12-team Mid-American Conference Tournament – to an 85-78 upset of fifth-seeded Buffalo at Buffalo. The RedHawks were preparing to meet fourth-seeded Northern Illinois in the quarterfinals at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down college basketball.

Since then, the 6-foot-4, 183-pound Sibande transferred to the University of Pittsburgh, leaving Owens and Miami without their leading scorer from the 2019-2020 season. Burly (6-8, 273-pound) forward Bam Bowman graduated, but he and Sibande were the only two losses from a team that finished 13-19 overall and 5-13 in the MAC East Division.

The MAC is a 12-team, one-division conference this season. Miami was picked to finish ninth in a preseason poll of conference coaches. The top four teams in the poll are Bowling Green, Ohio, Akron and Buffalo – all former East Division teams.

The RedHawks are scheduled to play 25 regular-season games, including one at Wright State on Dec. 5. They are due to play 20 MAC game, starting with a home game against arch-rival Ohio on Dec. 29.

Game staff, media and players’ guests will be the only spectators allowed to attend.

Owens, 44-54 overall and 20-39 in the MAC in his first three years at Miami, likes having five seniors and five juniors on his roster. The RedHawks return 72 percent of their scoring and 66 percent of their rebounding from last season, led by 6-7 senior forward Dalonte Brown, who ranked second behind Sibande last season with averages of 9.5 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. Also back is 6-2 sophomore guard Dae Dae Grant, who ranked third on the team with an average of 9.3 points per game on his way to being named to the MAC All-Freshman team, and 5-8 junior guard Mekhi Lairy, last season’s team leader with 88 assists.

Grant and Lairy are among five returning players who played in all 32 of Miami’s games last season.

“We have a lot of guys returning who have played a lot of games,” Owens said. “We’re hoping the chemistry will help from the standpoint of winning games. The COVID issue is what it is. Everybody’s dealing with it. We’re just happy to have the opportunity to compete and play against somebody else.”

Owens also was looking forward to seeing in action newcomers such as 6-4 freshman guard Bryson Tatum and 6-11 freshman center Jackson Ames, along with 6-8 redshirt freshman forward Javin Etzler, who was limited by injury to only two games last season. Etzler led Crestview to the 2019 Ohio Division IV state championship while being named first-team all-state and the Division IV Player of the Year.

“They’re a work in progress,” Owens said about Miami’s fresh faces. “Ames is a true center. He has his moments of being a player and his moments of being a freshman. Bryson’s playing behind some older guys. Javin is a guy who keeps getting better. We’re excited about him and his ability to shoot the basketball and what he can do for the team.”

Miami goes into the opener with projected starter Milos Jovic, a 6-4 fifth-year senior guard, and 6-6 fifth-year senior forward Precious Ayah expected to be sidelined with injuries.

“Milos is going to be out 3-4 weeks,” Owens said.

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