No rust for Miami in return from three-week hiatus

RedHawks top Northern Illinois in first game since Dec. 19

Miami played its first men’s basketball game in three weeks on Saturday, facing Northern Illinois in a Mid-American Conference game at Millett Hall.

Third-year sophomore Myja White showed no signs of rust. The 6-foot-1 guard had single-game career highs with four 3-pointers and 12 points by halftime as Miami opened up a 40-24 lead on the way to a win over the last-place Huskies.

“I was feeling pretty confident,” White said. “We’ve been going hard in practice on the court. It kind of came back naturally. When you have confidence, it can take you to a whole other level.”

Junior forward Eli McNamara scored 11 of his team-high 15 points in the second half as the RedHawks won for the first time in three games since Dec. 11.

“I was happy with the way the guys came out and competed,” fourth-year Miami coach Jack Owens said. “We showed some good fight to start the game. We were excited to be back playing. The guys did some good things. We shared the basketball.”

Junior guard Mekhi Lairy scored 13 points and sophomore guard Dae Dae Grant also had 12 for the RedHawks in their first game since losing, 69-68, in a non-conference game at Bradley on Dec. 19 and first at home since getting pummeled, 90-62, by Buffalo on Dec. 15 in their MAC opener. The RedHawks on Dec. 21 paused team-related activities to follow similar protocols and returned to practice on Sunday.

Miami has seen non-conference games against Defiance and Bellarmine cancelled twice due to following COVID-19 protocols. MAC home games against Ohio on December 29 against Ohio and Jan. 5 against Bowling Green have been postponed, along with a road game at Central Michigan scheduled for Jan. 2. Those games have yet to be rescheduled.

Miami is scheduled to embark on a two-game MAC road trip starting on Tuesday with a “Battle of the Bricks” rivalry renewal at Ohio on Tuesday at 7 p.m., followed by a trip to Kalamazoo, Mich., to meet Western Michigan on Saturday with a tipoff time to be announced. The RedHawks are due to return home to meet Ball State on Jan. 19 at 7 p.m.

Miami (4-3, 1-0) went into the game averaging 8.7 made 3-pointers per game, but the RedHawks had eight by halftime while taking control over NIU (1-9, 0-5), which went into the game last in the MAC in overall, 3-point and free throw shooting percentage. The Huskies led, 6-3, less than five minutes into the game before Lairy connected on a game-tying 3-pointer and fifth-year senior forward Precious Ayah gave the RedHawks the lead for good with a driving layup over two NIU defenders.

“They didn’t seem to be rusty,” said NIU coach Lamar Chapman, in his second game after replacing the fired Mark Montgomery on Sunday, on the post-game radio broadcast. “They had plenty of rest. They started off red-hot. They had a lot of balance to start the game. They came out more ready than rusty.”

Fourth-year junior forward James Beck and senior forward Dalonte Brown each sank two free throws to open the second half, extending Miami’s lead to 44-24 before the Huskies embarked on a 9-0 run on the way to cutting the deficit to seven, 52-45, with 8:33 left in the game. The RedHawks responded with a 14-3 run during which McNamara scored seven points and Lairy five to help regain control of the game.

“In the second half, I finally found a groove,” the 6-9 McNamara said. “My teammates got me the ball, and I knocked down some open shots. We just had to stay focused. In the huddle, we talked about staying with what we were doing and trusting the coaches and each other. After that, we started pulling away.”

“I’m just glad when they cut it to seven that we were able to get two consecutive stops and open the lead back up,” Owens said.

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