OXFORD, OH – Given a major roster turnover, one of the big questions for the 2016-17 Miami RedHawks was where they could get scoring to replace former standouts Eric Washington and Geovonie McKnight. Head coach John Cooper hoped that his junior class could provide some of that punch, and his wish came true – at least on MAC opening night.
Juniors Abdoulaye Harouna (career high 18 pts), Rod Mills (15 pts) and Logan McLane (14 points) all reached double figures as Miami held on to defeat Northern Illinois 69-67 Tuesday at Millett Hall.
Freshman point guard Michael Weathers, who leads RedHawk scoring with an 18.6 ppg average, was limited to 22 minutes due to foul trouble. However, he also reached double figures with 11 points.
Northern Illinois, which lost for the . . .
Miami never trailed in the first half and ultimately led for 32:34 minutes over both periods. It was a 32-24 RedHawks lead at halftime, but the visitors closed ground quickly after intermission, twice pulling within a single point before grabbing their first lead at 49-48 with 12:11 remaining.
Two factors aided Northern Illinois on the evening: rebounding and free throws.
Miami is last among MAC teams in both categories, but Tuesday night was particularly troublesome for the RedHawks and nearly led to their downfall.
NIU finished with a 41-28 rebounding advantage and outscored Miami 14-2 in points in the paint.
"We lost the battle of the boards, which was one of the focuses going into the game," Mills said. "That is something we've got to improve on going forward if we hope to be successful. We can't get beat on the boards like that."
The RedHawks also struggled mightily at the charity stripe, allowing Northern to remain within striking distance. After going 7 of 12 (58.3%) from the stripe before intermission, MU dropped to 3 of 12 (25%) on second half tosses.
NIU’s last lead was 57-56 at 7:08 after Maric put back his own miss from underneath. Mills responded with a big three at the other end to lift the hosts up by two. Bradley and Michael Weathers then traded layups before Armstead tipped in a miss for the game’s final tie, 61-61, at the 3:41 mark.
Another Mills 3-pointer, followed by McLane’s layup gave MU a five point lead. After Bradley hit one of two free throws for the Huskies, Michael Weathers missed the front of his bonus opportunity with 32 ticks left. Armstead’s triple cut the lead to 66-65.
Marcus Weathers, who played just 16 minutes on the evening, was quickly fouled and came through with a pair of makes. He was 4 of 4 on the evening, giving him more free throw makes than any Miami player.
When German hit two free throws at the other end, Northern trailed 68-67. Miami would get four more free throw chances over the final 11 seconds. Only the first opportunity fell. That gave the Huskies two more chances to tie or win, but both shots were well off the mark.
As bad as things went for Miami at the line and on the boards, the RedHawks did manage to cash in from beyond the arc. In fact, MU shot a slightly better percentage on threes (45.8%) than at the foul line (41.7%). Mills was 5 of 9 on treys, while Harouna hit 5 of 7. Neither player had exactly been lighting it up during non-conference play.
"I was struggling a little bit earlier in the year," Harouna said. "I wasn't having the confidence I used to have. I decided to jut relax and play the game. ... Everything was going in. I just kept playind and kept shooting."
"Guys were finding me," Mills said. "I was getting good looks and shooting them when I had the chance."
Miami (8-6, 1-0 MAC) returns to action Saturday at Toledo (4 p.m. ET). Northern Illinois hosts Central Michigan Saturday (4:30 p.m. ET).