OXFORD — Billy Smith caught fire from 3-point range to get the Miami RedHawks going Saturday afternoon at Millett Hall.
Smith drained his first five shots from behind the arc to give the RedHawks the early momentum in the first half as Miami snapped a three-game losing streak with an 80-67 victory over Arkansas Little Rock.
“I thought that our player movement and ball movement was good,” said Smith, a freshman who finished with 18 points and five rebounds. “It led to open shots, good kicks, and obviously we were glad to see a lot of those shots go down.
“The way the game started, I happened to be open,” Smith added. “I thought I was just going to shoot it confidently, which is what my coaches want me to do.”
The RedHawks (2-4), who never trailed the entire game, moved out to a 19-8 lead when Smith connected on his fifth 3-point bucket in a row at the 14:52 mark in the first half.
“Billy was ready. Billy is a terrific shooter,” first-year Miami coach Travis Steele said. “But I thought our ball was moving. We were cutting really, really hard, and our ball was flying around. There were reasons why Billy got wide-open 3s. That’s because we were a hard-cutting team, and our ball was moving.
“It was really good to get out and practice. It was the first time we were able to practice in about a week and a half due to so many games,” Steele added. “So we were just trying to get through.”
The RedHawks lost three in a row against a tough string of opponents (Georgia, Marshall and Indiana) during a six-day span.
“We had three good days of practice, and I felt like we cleaned up on the offensive end,” Steele said. “I think our ball moved the best it’s moved all year. And that has to be our identity on that end. We have to be a player-movement, ball-movement team.”
Steele said he was most impressed with the way his players converted passes into buckets. Miami shot 24 of 48 (50%) from the floor on 22 assists on Saturday.
“I will say that great shooting teams are great passing teams,” Steele said. “Those teams get good looks. And I thought Billy was a beneficiary of that early on.”
Miami mounted its largest lead at 43-25 on Ryan Mabrey’s 3-point bucket with 1:34 remaining in the first half, and Mekhi Lairy scored 19 of his game-high 25 points in the second half to bolster Miami down the stretch.
“We hit some shots today, and it showed,” Lairy said. “When we hit shots, it makes the game a lot easier. We just wanted to stay consistent throughout the entire game — play together, make the extra pass and take good shots. That’s what we did.”
Nigel John’s pair of free throws brought Little Rock to within 52-46 at the 13:46 mark of the second half. But that was as close as the Trojans would get.
D.J. Smith paced Little Rock (2-5) with 18 points, while John had 17.
Anderson Mirambeaux and Mabrey finished with 12 points apiece for the RedHawks, who went 18 of 20 (90%) from the free-throw line.
Steele said if there was one thing he’d like for his RedHawks to take away from Saturday’s win it’s how well they created scoring opportunities.
“I hope our guys continue to play the game the right way,” Steele said. “You have to play the game the right way. If you play the game the right way, it will always work out.”
IN THE KNOW: This was the first-ever meeting between Little Rock and Miami. … Miami hosts Jackson State at 7 p.m. on Tuesday.
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