RedHawks rally to top Western Illinois

Miami forward Dalonte Brown scores two against Wright State during a mens basketball game at the Nutter Center in Fairborn Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020. E.L. Hubbard/CONTRIBUTED

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Miami forward Dalonte Brown scores two against Wright State during a mens basketball game at the Nutter Center in Fairborn Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020. E.L. Hubbard/CONTRIBUTED

The Miami RedHawks seemed poised to open their three-team invitational men’s basketball tournament on Wednesday with a non-conference rout of Western Illinois.

Instead, Miami needed to come from behind in the second half and go 12-for-12 on free throws in the final 2:02 to hold off the Leathernecks and pull out a 67-57 win in what RedHawks coach Jack Owens said “became a toughness game.”

“I was just happy with the way our guys fought,” Owens said. “Our guys battled.”

Senior Dalonte Brown, who’d scored a combined 14 points while collecting 10 rebounds in Miami’s first two games, scored 17 of his game-high 19 points in the second half and finished with 16 rebounds, one short of matching his career high. The 6-foot-7 forward tied his single-game career high with three of Miami’s seven blocked shots.

“Coach (Owens) told me to attack the glass,” Brown said. “I focused on defense and rebounding. It’s very satisfying to get a ‘W’ against anybody. Western Illinois is a great team. We executed and played great defense.”

Miami went into the game ranked second in the Mid-American Conference with an average of 3.5 blocked shots per game.

“I like our defensive intensity right now,” Owens said. “We have to hang our hat on that. It’s not the prettiest thing.”

Junior guard Mekhi Lairy and fourth-year guard Isaiah Coleman-Lands both scored 12 points. The 5-8 Lairy improved to 16-for-16 on free throws over Miami’s first three games, sinking all four of Wednesday’s shots in the final 42.5 seconds.

The three-games-in-three-days event is scheduled to continue on Thursday when Western Illinois meets the Mount St. Joseph Lions at 2 p.m. before the RedHawks and Mount St. Joseph meet at 5:30 p.m. on Friday. The NCAA Division III Lions, who compete in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference, are 0-1.

Western Illinois, which plays in the Summit League, was 0-2 going into Wednesday’s game. They lost at No. 3 Iowa, 99-58, before losing at home to Central Michigan, another MAC team, 79-73, on Sunday.

The game was the first of three straight at home for Miami. The RedHawks are scheduled to play their conference opener against East Division-rival Buffalo on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. at Millett Hall.

The Leathernecks opened the second half with a 12-3 run to grab a 33-31 lead. Miami (2-1) came back for a 36-36 tie before Brown scored 10 points during a 12-0 RedHawks run. He punctuated the run with a contested layup that set up a three-point play and briefly flexed both arms in celebration,

“You have to generate your own energy,” Owens said. “You have to play with life and passion. He had a great game.”

The two halves of the first half couldn’t have been more glaringly different. The Leathernecks missed their first 12 shots from the field while Miami was opening up a 14-0 lead with 10:37 left in the first half. Marcus Watson snapped the drought with a driving layup that led a conventional three-point play with 10:22 left in the half. The RedHawks went on to open two 19-point leads, including a 26-7 bulge with 6:35 left before halftime on a James Beck leaner before Western Illinois went on a 14-0 run that ended with Precious Ayah’s putback at the buzzer of Mekhi Lairy’s missed 3-pointer from the top of the key for a 28-21 halftime lead.

“It wasn’t as much about what they did,” Coleman-Lands said. “I felt like we had some slippage at the defensive end. We weren’t as aggressive. We didn’t have as much energy. We fell off. I’m glad we picked it up in the second half. That’s basketball. Teams make runs.”

(Western Illinois) made some plays,” Owens said. “We weren’t making open shots. They’d hit the rim and fall out. They weren’t going down. The game of basketball is about runs. We knew they’d come back.”

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