Miami overcomes foul trouble to beat Buffalo

OXFORD — Three Miami RedHawks fouled out.

Miami was whistled for 27 personal fouls, committed a season-high 22 turnovers and was outscored by the Buffalo Bulls in points off turnovers, points in the paint, second-chance points, fast break points and bench points — and still won.

Not just won, but decisively.

Fifth-year senior guard Mekhi Lairy scored 20 points and dished out a career-high 11 assists while missing just one minute and 17 seconds as the RedHawks earned their first Mid-American Conference victory in three games with a 91-80 win over Buffalo before a crowd of 921 at Millett Hall on Tuesday.

“We stuck together and stayed poised,” said Lairy, who tied his career high with seven rebounds.

“Mekhi Lairy was really good,” first-year coach Travis Steele said. “We wanted the ball in his hands. He’s got to be our closer. He was the best player on the floor. It wasn’t even close.”

Senior forward Anderson Mirambeaux, the 6-foot-8 transfer from Cleveland State, also logged a double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out after playing 28:12 minutes. Freshman guard Ryan Mabrey connected on five 3-pointers to tie his career high with 15 points and junior Kamari Williams finished with a season-high 14 points as Miami improved to 7-9 overall and 1-2 in the MAC.

Mirambeaux, Mabrey and redshirt-junior Morgan Safford all fouled out, and Safford also was hobbled by a sprained ankle, but the Bulls (8-8, 2-1) didn’t help themselves by missing 15 of 38 free throws while the RedHawks were sinking 18-of-21.

“Overall, I told the guys we’ve been getting better the last month,” said Steele, who notched his first career MAC win. “We keep telling them it’s a process and that we have to stick together. We did tonight. It wasn’t perfect, but we stuck together.”

After back-to-back home games, Miami is scheduled to face Ball State in Muncie, Ind., on Saturday at 2 p.m. The Cardinals, picked in a pre-season MAC coaches’ poll to finish fourth, were 11-4 overall and 2-0 in the MAC and on a seven-game winning streak going into a game on Tuesday at Ohio.

Steele wasn’t sure if Safford would be ready for Miami’s neighborhood rival.

“We’re off tomorrow,” he said. “That’s a much-needed day off. He’s a warrior. If he can play, he’ll play.”

Miami’s next home game is scheduled for Tuesday against Northern Illinois. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

Miami never trailed after Mabrey connected on a 3-pointer for an 18-18 tie with 9:23 left in the first half. The Bulls came back to force four more tie scores, the last at 59-59 with 10:42 left in the game after sinking one of two free throws following a technical foul called on the RedHawks’ bench, but sophomore guard Julian Lewis connected on a 3-pointer to give them the lead for good. That sparked a 12-4 run that left Miami leading, 71-63, with 6:35 left in the game.

The RedHawks led by as many as 13 points twice down the stretch.

Lairy and Steele credited younger players such as Lewis for plugging the gaps left by the foul-plagued starters.

“The young guys have been getting some minutes,” Lairy said. “They came off the bench and contributed.

The RedHawks survived a sloppy first half to take a 37-34 lead into the locker room. Mabrey went 3-for-5 on 3-pointers to score a team-high nine points , helping Miami overcome 11 turnovers. The Bulls committed nine turnovers, helping them build a 14-7 lead in points off turnovers

The RedHawks rode a 12-3 run to a 34-25 lead with 4:14 left in the first half, but Buffalo responded with a 9-0 run to forge a 34-34 tie before Mabrey sank a 3-pointer with 1:50 left.

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