Miami falls at home to Northern Illinois

Credit: David A. Moodie

Credit: David A. Moodie

OXFORD — Northern Illinois was the Mid-American Conference’s lowest-scoring team going into Tuesday night’s game at Miami, but the Huskies didn’t look like it, especially in the second half.

Northern Illinois shot 61.5 percent (16-of-26) after halftime while limiting to RedHawks to 44.8 percent  (13-of-29), including 1-of-9 on 3-pointers on the way to an 81-77 win before a crowd of 971 fans at Millett Hall.

“They were more aggressive,” first-year Miami coach Travis Steele said of the Huskies, who improved to 6-12 overall and 2-3 in the MAC while scoring almost 14 points more than the 67.8 they were averaging going into the game. “They were tougher than us. You’ve got to play for 40 minutes.”

Redshirt-junior guard Morgan Safford, a transfer from Wofford in his first season with the RedHawks, led them with a season-high 27 points and 10 rebounds. Senior forward Anderson Mirambeaux scored 18 before fouling out with 4:01 left in the game. Fifth-year senior guard Mekhi Lairy, who moved into 10th place on Miami’s career scoring list against Buffalo on Jan. 10, added 15 points with six assists.

“I feel like they really attacked our weaknesses,” Safford said. “They were driving the ball. Defensively, they really locked in on Mekhi. We’ve got to do a better job of reacting.”

“They were keeping two on Mekhi the whole game,” Steele said. “I told him, ‘That means we’ve 4-on-3 somewhere.’ I thought was trying to force the play too much. I told him, ‘Sometimes, you have to give yourself to the double team and find the open man.’”

Miami travels to Bowling Green on Saturday and at Akron on Tuesday before meeting Eastern Michigan at Millett on Jan. 28. Bowling Green is 8-10 overall and 2-3 in the MAC after a 100-71 loss at Buffalo on Tuesday.

The RedHawks went into Tuesday’s game tied with Northern Illinois, Eastern Michigan and Ohio for ninth place in the 12-team MAC after a 75-61 loss on Saturday at Ball State during which they went 1-for-13 on 3-pointers and 8-of-15 on free throws.

The RedHawks trailed on Tuesday by 12 points, 71-59, with 5:52 left in the second half. Mirambeaux sparked a comeback with four straight points on a tip-in and two free throws before picking up his fifth foul, forcing Steele to go small with Safford taking over at center.

“I’ll play all the positions,” the versatile, 6-foot-5 Safford said. “I said I’ll do whatever the team needs and do the best I can.”

“It’s next man up,” Steele said, bringing up 6-8 freshman Jaquel Morris. “Jaquel has got to be better. He’s got to play hard. I don’t mind if you make mistakes if you’re playing at a million miles an hour.

“Sometimes, our best lineup is small,” he added. “It’s hard for teams to defend us.”

Safford and Lairy combined to score Miami’s final 14 points of the game and each took a turn cutting the Huskies’ lead to two points in the final 32.8 seconds, but Northern Illinois senior Darweshi Hunter – a Princeton High School product and transfer from Weber State – converted both ends of back-to-back bonus free throw situations in the last 26.2 seconds to personally hold off the RedHawks and seal the win.

Miami trailed by as many as 11 points, 32-21, with 5:35 left in the first half before Safford erupted for 11 of his 14 first-half points, including three 3-pointers, and the RedHawks ended the half on a 7-0 run for a 40-39 intermission lead. Miami turned the ball over eight times to Northern Illinois’s seven, but the RedHawks somehow built a 12-3 lead in points off turnovers.

Mirambeaux added 12 points before halftime.

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