Miami still searching for consistency

RedHawks lose MAC game at home to last-place Northern Illinois

Credit: Marc Lebryk

Credit: Marc Lebryk

OXFORD — Twenty-three games into the 2023-2024 Miami men’s basketball season, consistency remains an elusive target,

The RedHawks seemed to be building up a head of steam after upsetting Mid-American Conference-leading Akron at Miami’s Millett Hall in Oxford on Jan. 27 and winning at Kent State on Jan. 30.

Miami followed up with back-to-back losses, the second a 62-59 loss to last-place Northern Illinois at home on Tuesday.

“We’re a young team,” second-year RedHawks coach Travis Steele said after Tuesday’s game. “Give credit to Northern Illinois. They’re talented. They’ve got a first-team all-league player in David Coit. Our effort was good, but we’ve got block out. We got out butts kicked on the glass.”

Coit, a 5-foot-11 junior guard, scored 21 points and 6-7 junior guard Zarigue Nutter led both teams with 22 points and seven rebounds for the 8-14 and 2-8 Huskies, who’ve won two straight after a 10-game losing streak.

Freshman center Reece Potter was the only RedHawk to reach double figures, finishing with 10 points.

Miami hasn’t won more than two games in a row or lost more than three in a row all season. Graduate-student Bryce Bultman admitted the frustration.

“It is frustrating” the 6-5 forward said. “We just have to keep competing and playing hard. We know we can play with the best teams in the league, but we can’t take anyone for granted. We’ve got to keep our foot on the pedal.”

The top eight teams in the final regular-season standings earn a trip to Rocket Mortgage Arena in Cleveland for the MAC Tournament. After Tuesday’s games, the RedHawks are tied for sixth with Kent State and Western Michigan, two games behind Bowling Green and Ohio, both of which already own wins over the RedHawks, including the Bobcats’ 78-69 win on Saturday in Athens. Miami has already lost to Western Michigan, but is scheduled to play at Western Michigan on Feb. 20.

The RedHawks (11-12, 5-6) also are scheduled to play at Bowling Green on Feb. 27 before closing out the regular season against Ohio at Millett Hall on March 8.

Head-to-head results are the first tiebreaker when determining tournament seedings.

Miami goes out of conference with a visit on Saturday to Georgia State in Atlanta as part of the  MAC vs. Sun Belt Challenge before returning home for a rematch with Ball State on Feb. 17.

The RedHawks lost at home to Texas State, 75-65, as part of the Challenge on Nov. 11 in the second game of the season.

Miami went into Tuesday’s game as the MAC’s worst rebounding team and played to that level. The RedHawks were outrebounded, 45-33, including 15 Huskie offensive rebounds they turned into a 24-16 advantage on points in the paint. Northern Illinois also enjoyed a difference-making 19-5 lead in second-chance points.

“Their physicality hurt us,” Bultman said. “We got some good shots. We just didn’t make them,”

“We’ve got to finish around the rim,” Steele said. “They kept knocking us off our lines. The  officials let it be physical. You’ve got to adjust. This is a physical league.”

The Huskies took the lead for good at 45-44 on Nutter’s conventional three-point play with 11:01 left in the game. There were seven lead changes and nine ties. Northern Illinois led by as many as eight points in the second half.

Miami was outrebounded, 25-16, in the first half but still was able to squeeze out a 31-30 halftime lead behind Bultman’s eight points. The RedHawks had three blocked shots while building a 25-15 lead Potter’s 3-pointer with 9:03 left before halftime. The visiting Huskies rode a 15-4 run to a 30-29 lead with 54 seconds left in the first half before freshman guard Mekhi Cooper sank two free throws with 3.7 seconds left to regain the lead.

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