Sibande’s second half helps Miami upset Kent State

As Mekhi Lairy waited to shoot two free throws with 6.5 seconds left and Miami leading Kent State, 75-74, a courtside fan yelled at Nike Sibande, “C’mon, Nike. Be a leader.”

The RedHawks junior could make a case that he’d already taken care of that.

Sibande, who’d scored a combined 17 points in Miami’s previous two games, scored 19 of his 25 in the second half and Miami held off the Golden Flashes for a taut 77-74 Mid-American Conference East Division win before a crowd of 784 on Tuesday night at Millett Hall.

“I did hear him,” Sibande, who collected 20 rebounds, said after the game. “I heard him the whole game. If the fans want me in that position, then that’s what I’ll do. That’s what my teammates want. That’s what they push me to do. I try big time to contribute to them.”

Senior forward Bam Bowman, freshman point guard Dae Dae Grant and third-year sophomore guard Isaiah Coleman-Lands each scored 11 points for Miami (8-9, 1-3), which avoided its worst conference start since going 0-7 to open the 2015-2016 season. Coleman-Lands scored nine after halftime.

Miami converted 17 Kent State turnovers into a 22-8 advantage in points off turnovers

Kent State (13-4, 3-1) was as hot from the field in the second as it was cold in the first half. The Golden Flashes shot .607 from the field (17-of-28), including a blistering .647 (11-of-17) on 3-pointers while wiping out a 17-point deficit just over two minutes into the second half to take two leads and forge three tie scores before Sibande broke free for a layup and a 73-71 lead with 59 seconds left.

“You could see after that layup that his reaction was ‘We were not going to lose,’” third-year coach Jack Owens said. “That was a great sign. We had a good talk on Sunday. You knew we were going to get the good Nike today.

“Our guys found a way to win it at the end. We’ve been on the other side of that the last three games.”

“The coaches have been pushing us to play 40 minutes,” Sibande said. “I’m just proud of everybody.”

Bowman and Sibande each made one of two free throws for a 75-71 lead. Kent State’s Danny Pippen converted a conventional three-point play for a one-point lead, and Grant committed a turnover on the inbounds pass with 11 seconds left, but the freshman made up for it by drawing a charging foul to give Miami the ball and set up Lairy’s two free throws. He made both to force Kent State into a wild 3-point try at the buzzer.

“’Thank God,’” Owens said about his initial reaction at the final buzzer. “At the end of the day, these guys are growing.”

Tuesday’s game was the second of a stretch in which Miami will play five out of six games at Millett Hall. After Saturday’s 2 p.m. game at Ball State, the RedHawks return for games on Tuesday at 7 p.m. against Akron, Jan. 25 against Eastern Michigan at 2 p.m. and Central Michigan at 7 p.m. on Jan. 28.

Kent State and Akron were the only MAC teams with 3-0 records going into Tuesday’s games . The Golden Flashes were picked to finish third, one slot ahead of Miami, and the Zips fifth in MAC preseason coaches’ poll. The Golden Flashes’ wins included a 72-71 thriller at Wright State against a Raiders team that’s beaten Miami twice this season. Kent State also opened its MAC season with an 18-point at Bowling Green against a Falcons’ team picked to win the East Division and went on to edge the RedHawks, 78-76.

Kent State went into the game leading the conference with a team .461 field-goal percentage, but the Golden Flashes managed just a .333 figure (9-for-27), including 3-of-13 on 3-pointers while scoring the fewest points in a half this season. Grant led both teams with nine points and Sibande sank a jumper with two seconds left to give the RedHawks a 31-21 lead.


Miami at Ball State, 1 p.m., 980, 1450

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