RedHawks wrap up non-conference play with big win

Credit: David A. Moodie

Credit: David A. Moodie

Morgan Safford leads five Miami players in double figures with 19 points

OXFORD — Miami men’s basketball coach Travis Steele deployed an unusual starting lineup for the RedHawks’ last non-conference game of the season on Thursday.

Facing Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, Steele inserted 6-foot-4 redshirt-sophomore guard Bryson Tatum and 6-8 freshman forward Jaquel Morris into the starting lineup for the first time in their careers.

They replaced 6-8 senior forward Anderson Mirambeaux and 5-8 fifth-year senior guard Mekhi Lairy, who didn’t start for the first time in Miami’s 13 games.

It mattered little against the NAIA school located just west of Terre Haute, Ind.. The RedHawks broke open a close game with a 36-9 run over the last 11:24 of the first half to grab a 51-25 halftime lead on the way to a 90-51 win before a crowd of 915 at Millett Hall in Oxford.

“We played really hard,” said Steele, whose wife, Amanda, gave birth to their third child and first daughter on Tuesday. “We had 33 deflections. Our goal was 32. We were disappointed that we gave up 51 points. We wanted to hold them to 50, and we had 15 turnovers. We wanted to have 12 or less. We’ve got to value the ball.

“I was proud of our transition defense. We’ve been spending 30 minutes every practice on that. We keep saying it’s like a house on fire. You’ve got to sprint back.”

Redshirt-junior guard Morgan Safford led five Miami players in double figures with 19 points and a team-high four steals in 24:08.

The 6-foot-4 Tatum scored four points and collected six rebounds in 18:58 minutes and the 6-8 Morris scored two points in 14:03 minutes, but Steele was impressed with the impact Morris seemed to have on sparking 6-7 sophomore forward Curtis Harrison  IV.

“He was diving on the floor,” Steele said of Harrison. “His aggressive mentality helped the team. I think Curtis is pushing Morris.”

At the same time, Steele has to remind himself that Morris and four of his teammates are freshmen. Three started against Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

“They don’t know up from down,” Steele said. “The older guys have to show them what needs to be done. Safford has played and won. He knows what it takes.”

The RedHawks outscored the Pomeroys 48-20 in the paint and 49-14 in points off the bench while improving to 6-7 overall, but they are 3-7 against NCAA Division I programs going into their Mid-American Conference opener at Central Michigan on Tuesday. They are scheduled to play back-to-back home games against Kent State on Jan. 7 at 3:30 p.m. and Buffalo on Jan. 10 at 7 p.m.

Kent State was picked to win the MAC regularseason and tournament championships in a pre-season coaches poll. Miami was picked to finish 11th in the 12-team conference, one rung below Central Michigan.

“Everybody’s 0-0,” Steele said. “We have 18 games. It’s a matter of staying the course and seeing who got better. Every game is the Super Bowl. You can’t get too high or too low. It’s anybody’s league. It’s the MAC. It’ll be bunched up. We’re ready to roll.”

Mirambeaux scored eight points in 8:24 off the bench during the decisive run, sparked by the 6-5 Safford’s acrobatic tip-in that gave Miami the lead for good at 17-16 with 11:24 left in the first half. The transfer from Wofford, in his first season at Miami, scored 10 points in the first half.

“Tonight prepared us,” Safford said. “We’re trending upward. We’re taking the right steps. We have to be a lot tougher with the ball. We have to have the mentality of taking care of the ball.”

SMWC fell to 6-9.

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