BY MIKE SMITH
OXFORD, Ohio -- Eric Washington hit two big treys late, sending the game to overtime, and the Miami RedHawks fought back from a 25-point first half deficit to nip Eastern Michigan 82-81 at Millett Hall Saturday.
"I've been a part of a lot of games, but that is the largest comeback that I've actually been a part of that I can remember as a Division I coach," Miami head coach John Cooper said after MU's hard-fought victory.
MU got its first lead of the entire game in overtime when L.J. Livingston scored on a layup. Jodan Price responded with a trey at the other end to give Eastern an 81-80 advantage. Miami senior Will Sullivan then drew a foul on the RedHawks next possession, and he hit both ends of the opportunity.
Although 3:19 remained in the extra period, Sullivan’s charity tosses turned out to be the final points of the game. Eastern Michigan missed four threes the rest of the way, while Miami missed three from the field.
"Obviously, we were tired, but when you get to that point, it's who wants it more," MU point guard Eric Washington said. "I feel like they were a little tired, as well."
The RedHawks comeback featured a reversal of roles – both in the two halves and down the stretch. Eastern Michigan’s 2-3 zone frustrated Miami early while the Eagles offense exploded for 49 points and a 49-30 halftime lead. It was a half in which the visitors shot 63 percent from the field, 60 percent from beyond the arc and 81.8 percent (9-of-11) at the line.
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Miami was a pedestrian 42.0 percent from the floor and beyond. Free throws were once again an issue for MU, but it made some late charity tosses to at least raise its halftime FT average to 56.3 percent (9-of-16).
"For whatever reason, our mentality has not been where it needs to be in the first half," Cooper said, noting early turnovers and free throw shooting have been factors in the deficit. "I've got to do something different in order to ge this group going earlier."
Miami’s second half numbers from the field were only slightly better as MU connected on 44.4 percent (12-of-27) from the field. It once again converted 42.9 percent (6-of-14) from distance. Eastern Michigan, however, dropped off to 35.5 percent (6-of-17) from the field and 20 percent (1-of-5) beyond the arc.
Another major difference came at the free throw line. Miami turned things around in the second period, draining 18-of-20 (90%) at the stripe. Eastern Michigan dropped to 61.5 percent after intermission. More importantly, the Eagles made just 6-of-12 free throws in the final 57 seconds of regulation. Even one more might have staved off EMU’s second overtime loss of the week. The Eagles, who fell to Ball State at home in OT (60-59) Wednesday, are now 11-4 overall and 0-2 in MAC play.
Miami, meanwhile, raised its season mark to 6-9. It is 1-1 in MAC action, having lost to Buffalo (79-72) Wednesday. As in that game, MU found itself in an early hole. Although it fought back, UB was able to hold off the RedHawks down the stretch.
Lee and Karrington Ward both scored 12 first half points to pace both teams. Sophomore Jaryd Eustace, seeing his most extensive action of the season, led MU with nine markers. Washington, who would play a key role in Miami’s comeback, had one point at intermission. He finished with a team-high 18.
A 12-2 run by Miami to start the second half helped kindle the RedHawks comeback fire. Sullivan and Washington contributed treys. Livingston scored on a tip-in, followed by a dunk. When McKnight tossed in two free throws, it was a 51-42 game.
"I think our guys came out with a sense of purpose (after intermission," Cooper said. We were much more aggressive in attacking. ... I think that (early run) helped our morale and gave us a little bit of a boost. But we still had a long way to go."
Miami whittled it down to six points midway through the half, but EMU pushed its lead back up to 13 at 67-54 with 6:38 left.
The last double-digit lead disappeared when Sullivan scored on a layup at 4:49, but Ward’s massive tomahawk dunk at 2:26 left Eastern in front by eight (72-64). That turned out to be the last field goal by EMU in regulation, which might have been enough had the Eagles converted more than their 6-of-12 free throws down the stretch.
Ward went to the line again with 10 seconds remaining, and again split two tosses, making it a 78-75 contest. Washington got another opportunity with 3.4 seconds left and drained that one for the tie. Eastern took a time out, but Nazione was called for an offensive foul before reaching half court. That gave MU time for a quick try. The ball ended up in Eustace’s hands and nearly went in.
Miami got just four points in the overtime, but that was one more than Eastern, which made 1-of-6 shots in the extra period.
Both teams had five players in double figures. Joining Ward (18) for EMU were Lee (14), Mike Talley (13, including 11-of-14 from the line), Price (13) and Mike Samuels (11).
Miami was led by Washington (18), followed by Sullivan (17), Eustace (16), McKnight 912) and Livingston (11). Sullivan added 12 rebounds, giving him his first career double-double.
The RedHawks out-rebounded Eastern Michigan, 38-28, and had a 16-9 advantage in second chance points. EMU had a 26-24 edge in points in the paint. It also prevailed in points off turnovers (23-18), fast break points (9-4) and point soff the bench (30-20).
Miami plays its first road MAC game Wednesday at Central Michigan (7 p.m. ET). Eastern Michigan will be at Kent State Wednesday (7 p.m. ET).