Miami mauls Wilberforce in final game of MAC prep

RedHawks open conference slate Saturday at Central Michigan

Miami’s Mid-American Conference football championship team watched the first half of the basketball team’s 119-52 win over Wilberforce from one end zone on Monday.

The basketball team is scheduled to open its pursuit of a MAC title on Saturday. If the RedHawks are able to complete their quest, it not only would be their first regular-season championship since 2005, it also will mark the first time since the 1977-1978 school year that the university has simultaneously worn both crowns.

Miami will open its MAC schedule at Central Michigan of the West Division on Saturday at 2 p.m. The RedHawks will play at Bowling Green on Jan. 7 at 7 p.m. before facing Buffalo on Jan. 10 at 7 p.m. in their conference home opener.

Third-year coach Jack Owens feels the RedHawks are ready for conference play after a nine-day break between games, including four or five days away from practice.

“This is the kind of game that gets you back going,” Owens said. “Opening with a game on the road at Central Michigan is huge.”

“Our confidence is high,” said sophomore guard Mekhi Lairy, who led Miami with 18 points against the Bulldogs. “We feel like we’re playing at a high level, and it’s a good time for that.”

Bowling Green was picked to win the six-team East Division championship in a preseason conference coaches poll. The RedHawks were picked to finish fourth. Miami finished fourth with a 7-11 MAC record last season and is 15-21 in Owens’ two seasons as coach.

The Chippewas, who were picked to finish fourth in the six-team West, finished non-conference play with a 7-6 record and have lost four straight games, including a 97-62 loss at Purdue on Saturday.

“Central Michigan wants to score points in bunches,” Owens said. “Defensively, they’ll press and play three or four different defenses. They give you a lot of different things to prepare for.”

Junior forward Jabril Hunter was the only player to reach double figures with 12 points for Wilberforce (4-9), a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Division II school. The Bulldogs were playing for the first time since November 23.

Miami went 7-6 in its non-conference schedule after going 8-5 last season. The RedHawks are 22-17 against non-conference teams in Owens’s three seasons.

The RedHawks finished with the second-highest single-game points total in program history and the second-widest winning margin, surpassed in both columns only by the Nov. 29, 2017, 123-40 win over Midway.

Seven players reached double figures in points for Miami, including sophomore forward Eli McNamara’s career-high 15. The last time Miami had six or more players reach double figures in a game was on Nov. 19, 2004, when Chet Mason, Danny Horace, Monty St. Clair, Chad Troyer, William Hatcher and Nathan Peavy did it in an 81-71win over Purdue.

Miami finished with a season-best 67.1 field-goal percentage (47-of-70).

“We showed we can shoot at a high level,” Lairy said. “We’ve had some nights where we haven’t done that. It shows what hard work can do. We were all unselfish, including me,”

“I was happy with the result,” Owens said. “We played the right way. We did the things we talked about on both sides of the ball. It was big for us to create momentum and create good habits.”

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