OXFORD,Ohio – Saturday’s Northern Illinois at Miami basketball game result will be fodder for all those coaches prone to saying, “Anything can happen in MAC play.”
Despite the absence of All-MAC point guard Eric Washington and an in-game injury to guard Zach McCormick, Miami expanded a one-point halftime lead and went on to a 72-59 win over Northern Illinois Saturday at Millett Hall.
NIU, 16-5, 5-3 MAC, entered Saturday alone atop the Western Division. Miami, (7-14, 1-7 MAC) brought a 10-game losing streak to the matchup and had not won a game in conference play.
The Huskies started . . .
NIU, however, got just two points from Travon Baker, who ranked fourth among MAC players in 3-point percentage (44.5%). He was 0-for-9 Saturday. Marin Maric, the Huskies main inside presence, slipped to four points on the day, considerably off his 12.7 ppg. average.
Miami had just one of its two double figure scorers available. Senior guard Geovonie McKnight led the RedHawks with 18 points despite sitting out three-fourths of the first half with two fouls. He had just two points at the break.
Sophomore forward Rod Mills and walk-on guard Ali Barnes both scored 11 points. That was a career-high for Barnes, who was moved to point guard this season and played sparingly due to injuries early in the campaign. Another sophomore, Dion Wade, also reached double figures with 10 points and contributed a team-high five rebounds.
“If we end up losing by two, you look back on plays like that,” said Miami coach John Cooper, who was happy for his players after enduring a 10-game losing skein.
‘Obviously, when you start off conference play the way we did, it’s not an easy thing to deal with,” Cooper said. “But they have continued every single day to come to practice, and they have had energy and continued to work.”
“Sometimes things don’t go the way you want them to to, but you’ve got to get up and continue to fight,” he continued. “I’m really, really happy for our kids.”
Miami grabbed an early lead and led by as many as eight points (at 13:31). McKnight, however, picked up his second foul at 14:51 and headed to the bench.
Northern Illinois chipped away and grabbed a brief-two-point lead, 31-29 with 2:35 left before intermission. Baskets by Chris Bryant, Barnes and Logan McLane put MU up 35-31 before Armstead closed the period’s scoring with a trey.
“We were very disappointed with the start of the game,” said NIU head coach Mark Montgomery. “When a team hasn’t been playing well like Miami, it gives them confidence; they came out punching and we couldn’t stop them. It seemed like when we made a three and it looked like we were going to make a run, they made a three, and they made a lot of them at the end of the shot clock.
“When you go on the road in the MAC it is a dogfight, throw the records out. They were hungrier than u,s and I am disappointed in myself and in our team because our effort wasn’t where it should be.”
Miami had 13 field goals to just nine for visitors, but NIU had one more trey and six more free throws. Overall shooting percentages were relatively close – MU 44.8 percent; NIU 42.9 percent.
Northern Illinois fought back with an 8-1 run to get within two, but MU responded with a 10-0 run. Mills (1) and Wade (2) kicked it off with treys as Miami hit 6-of-10 from distance post intermission. The RedHawks held a 61-49 lead with 7:24 remaining.
NIU reduced its deficit to four (61-57) following a tip-in by Wilson at 4:56, but that was as close as the Huskies could get. A pair of McKnight free throws at 2:11 pushed the hosts up by double digits again, 69-59, and Miami added three more points for the final margin.
Miami at Eastern Michigan (Tuesday , 7 p.m. ET)
Buffalo at Northern Illinois (Tuesday, 8 p.m. ET)