Miami celebrates coach’s birthday with a victory

RedHawks top Goshen College 87-44

OXFORD -- Travis Steele presumably celebrated his 41st birthday on Saturday by blowing out some candles on a cake.

That was appropriate, since his Miami RedHawks picked up their first win of the season by blowing out NAIA Division II Goshen (Ind.) College, 87-44, in an afternoon game at Millett Hall.

“I thought we got off to a good early start,” the first-year Miami coach said. “After we got the big lead, we started trying to break off way too much. In the second half, we responded. At halftime, I got on them a little bit.”

Sophomore guard Julian Lewis, a 6-foot-6 transfer from William and Mary, tied his career high with 17 points and set a career high with 10 rebounds in 26 minutes during his Miami debut, including 12 points in a second half dominated by the RedHawks, who outscored the visiting Maple Leafs, 61-23, after intermission.

“He was pretty fierce, as he should be,” Lewis said of Steele’s message. “He was pretty mad. He said we had to pick up our urgency and pick up our connectivity.”

Guard Mekhi Lairy, a 5-8 fifth-year senior, added 13 points in 26 minutes and 6-2 freshman guard Eli Yohan contributed 12 points in 24 minutes.

“I’m confident in our shooters,” Lewis said. “We’ve got a bunch of snipers.”

Led by freshman guard Billy Smith’s six steals, Miami forced 27 turnovers and built a 35-9 advantage in points off turnovers. The 6-foot-7 Smith also logged 11 points and a team-high 12 rebounds in 28 minutes.

“We’ve got to play that way for 40 minutes, not 20,” Steele said. “We’ve got to be doing the gritty things – like Smith. I thought Lewis changed the game in the second half. He’s our Swiss army knife.”

Goshen’s turnovers were the most forced by Miami in the last eight season, surpassing the 24 pried out of Kenyon’s hands on Nov. 17, 2015, according to the program’s best available records.

At one point, Miami had 10 assists on 14 made field goals before finishing with 17 on 32.

“That’s how we have to be,” Steele said. “We don’t have many one-on-one players. We have to be a ball-movement, player-movement team.”

Freshman guard and Fairfield product Caleb Wright started for Goshen (1-4), which competes in the Crossroads League. The 5-foot-11 guard finished with five points in just more than 31 minutes.

Pre-game activities included a moment of silence to honor the memory of former Miami sports information director Bob Kurz, who passed away on Friday at the age of 86. Kurz is credited with coining the phrase “Cradle of Coaches” to describe Miami.

Post-game activities included the team and crowd singing “Happy Birthday” to Steele.

Lairy scored a team-high nine points to help Miami take a 26-21 halftime lead. The RedHawks led by as many as nine points in the half before a rash of seven turnovers in the last 8:05 allowed the Maple Leafs to creep back into the game and create a 21-21 tie with 3:40 left before Miami ended the half on a 5-0 run, capped by Lairy’s steal of an inbounds pass and breakaway layup.

“We’ve got take care of the ball,” Steele said. “We were trying to hit homers. What happens to home run hitters? They strike out a lot. We’ve got to hit singles.”

Miami is going to have to wade through most of the non-conference schedule with a decimated frontcourt. Steele said 6-5 forward Morgan Safford, who suffered a right leg injury in Monday’s season-opening loss to Evansville, will likely miss a month. Sophomore Curtis Harrison IV, a 6-7 forward, underwent surgery about a month ago, but he is expected to be back before Mid-American Conference play starts on January 3 at Central Michigan.

Another forward, 6-7 junior Javin Etzler, underwent what Steele described as a “minor surgical procedure,” and should be back around Christmas.

MONDAY’S GAME

Miami at Georgia, 7 p.m., ESPN+, 980, 1450

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