By MIKE SMITH
OXFORD, Ohio – The Miami RedHawks are on a roll!
Miami made it four straight wins Tuesday at Millett Hall by knocking off yet another MAC East leader. The RedHawks prevailed, 86-81, over Kent State in overtime after rallying from a 19-point second-half deficit. It was the second consecutive OT win for MU, which edged Akron on the road Saturday. A week ago, Miami (12-16, 7-8 MAC) edged MAC East leader Bowling Green on the Falcons home court. The streak started with a win over rival Ohio Feb. 14.
Kent State, meanwhile, fell for the first time in four games. The Flashes (19-9, 10-5 MAC) fall into a tie for first with Bowling Green, which defeated Ohio Tuesday in Athens.
Point guard Eric Washington led Miami. Seven of his 24 points (tying a career high) came in overtime. Joining him in double figures were Will Sullivan (16), Geovonie McKnight (14) and Willie Moore (12).
Kent State forward Jimmy Hall tied for game-high honors with 24 points. Davareaux Manley and Kris Brewer registered 14 points apiece, while Chris Ortiz posted a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds.
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“Our main concerns from the very beginning was (that) our team looked fatigued,” Miami head coach John Cooper said. “We’re asking a lot of our guys to do a lot coming off two tough road games and then have a quick turnaround time. I thought it showed up for a good 30 minutes of the game. We just did not have energy.”
Miami managed to avoid a double digit deficit by converting 17-of-23 chances at the free throw line, a spot that has helped fuel the current win streak.
KSU, however, jumped on the RedHawks with a quick 9-2 burst to open the second stanza. That gave the visitors a 15-point lead following Manley’s three-pointer with 15:58 to go.
Miami chipped away and pulled within six at 49-43 at the 13:00 mark following an “and-one” bucket by Moore.
Manley then hit a trey at the other end to kick off a 16-2 Kent State run that gave the Flashes their largest lead of the game, 64-45. That might have been enough to put the RedHawks away earlier this year, but they seem to be a tougher bird during their current win skein.
It was still a 12-point Kent State lead with 3:15 to play, but MU ran off 10 unanswered points. When Jaryd Eustace hit a three from the corner, Miami trailed 73-71 with 1:12 on the clock.
Derek Jackson and Washington each made the second of two free throws. Brewer then pumped the lead back up to four (76-72) with 16 seconds left.
Miami again got the ball to Eustace, who buried another three-ball with eight ticks left, reducing the KSU lead to a single point. Moore quickly fouled Chris Ortiz, who made the first of two free throws. When he missed the second, Moore grabbed the carom and quickly found McKnight streaking ahead. The junior guard finished with a layup to tie the contest with one second left, forcing overtime.
“We had to have a lot of things go right, but we also had to capitalize on them, and we did,” Cooper said.
Each team scored just one field goal in the extra period, but Miami got to the line nine times for seven points. Kent State was 2-of-4 from the stripe in OT.
The Flashes actually had more free throws in the second period (16-of-20 to MU’s 10-of-12). However, Miami warmed up considerably from the field, hitting 17-of-28 (60.7%). That included 3-of-5 beyond the arc. Kent State connected on 10-of-24 (41.7%) from the field and 3-of-10 from distance.
The Flashes held a 40-34 advantage in rebounds for the game and outscored MU 10-2 on second chance points. Miami owned a 22-0 advantage in fast break point and picked up 32 points from the bench compared to 20 for KSU.
“As this season has progressed, we’ve had different guys at different times that have stepped up for us,” Cooper said. “More than anything about this team that I am proud of is their character. … There were times throughout this season where this team could have tucked it in, and they didn’t.”