Jaylin Walker and the Kent State Golden Flashes dealt Miami’s hopes of hosting a Mid-American Conference first-round tournament game a serious blow on Tuesday.
The RedHawks got off to another slow start while Walker, who went into the game leading the MAC in scoring with an average of 21.6 points per game, scored 23 of his game-high 29 points in the first half and Kent State (21-9, 10-7 East Division)) handed the RedHawks their second consecutive home loss with a 75-66 win before a crowd of 2,343 at Millett Hall.
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Miami (15-15, 7-10 East) slipped into a tie with Northern Illinois for the eighth seed in the 12-team MAC Tournament, but the Huskies – who travel to Ball State on Friday – own the tiebreak advantage after an 83-70 win at Miami on Jan. 8, all the way back in the second game of the conference season.
Miami, which has lost three of its last four games, will wrap up the regular season on Friday at Ohio, where the RedHawks have lost seven consecutive games since a 92-88 three-overtime win on Jan. 9, 2011. Miami beat the Bobcats, 79-59, in the season’s first “Battle of the Bricks” on Feb. 9.
Going into the conference regular-season finales, Miami can end up with either the seventh, eighth or ninth seeds. The fifth through eighth seeds host tournament first-round games. The RedHawks will try to downplay the significance of the game, sophomore guard Nike Sibande said.
“Our focus game-to-game is trying to win,” said Sibande, who posted a double-double with 21 points and 20 rebounds. “We want to have a home game to give us momentum.”
“We’ve just got to get better,” coach Jack Owens said. “That will be my talking point. We have to do a better job of getting the guys ready to play.”
Seniors Aleks Abrams, Abdoulaye Harouna and Darrian Ringo were honored in post-game ceremonies.
Junior forward Bam Bowman finished with 18 points for the RedHawks, who were outrebounded, 39-33.
Walker, who scored 27 points in Kent State’s 70-67 win over the RedHawks on February 5, personally outscored the entire RedHawks team in the first half, scoring 23 to lead the Golden Flashes to a 38-21 halftime lead. For the second straight game, Miami was scoreless at the first (under 16 minutes) media timeout. The RedHawks trailed Buffalo, 18-0, at the first media timeout of a Miami loss to the Bulls on Friday. Kent State led only 2-0 at the same juncture on Tuesday, but went on to lead by as many as 18 points in the first half.
“I feel like we started the game off wrong,” said Sibande, who slightly injured his right ankle when he rolled it late in the game. “If I knew what the problem was, I’d fix it.”
“Another slow start,” Owens said. “We dug ourselves a hole. We came out and settled for too many (3-pointers). We have to do a better job of taking quality shots and getting the ball inside.”
Walker was 7-of-10 from the field before halftime, including 5-of-6 on 3-pointers. His teammates were a combined 7-for-22 from the field, including 1-of-6 on 3-pointers.
“He just made some shots and got into a rhythm,” Owens said. “You have to make him go over the top.”
Sibande scored eight points during a 14-3 Miami run that cut Kent State’s lead to 45-41 with 13:52 left in the game, but the RedHawks could get no closer as the Golden Flashes opened up a 15-point lead in the last five minutes.
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