Miami basketball: RedHawks resilient in difficult season

OXFORD -- A 2020-2021 Miami men’s basketball season that has been difficult to plan for got more problematic on Monday.

The Mid-American Conference announced that four more games had been postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. One of them is the RedHawks’ home game against Eastern Michigan on Feb. 9.

That lifted to four the number of conference games Miami has seen postponed this season. The RedHawks still were waiting to learn if their postponed games against Ohio and at Central Michigan and Western Michigan will be rescheduled. They originally were due to play the Bobcats on Dec. 29 at Millett Hall and at Central Michigan on Jan. 2 and at Western Michigan on Jan, 16.

Miami, which went into this week third in the MAC with a 5-3 record and was 8-5 overall with four wins in its last five games, expected to leave late Monday afternoon for a Tuesday game at Kent State. Tipoff had been moved up an hour to 6 p.m. The RedHawks planned to return home after that game before leaving later in the week for a Saturday game at Buffalo. Tipoff for that game was set for 5 p.m.

His players’ resilience in the face of all of those disruptions has been fourth-year coach Jack Owens’ most pleasant surprise this season, he said on Monday during a Zoom media session.

“With all of those things you mentioned – the COVID and the cancellations and everything – the guys have responded in a positive way,” Owens said. “They’ve focused on the things they can control and have been ready to move on. We’re excited to go out and win a game.”

Miami has played eight conference games, tied with Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan for the second-fewest in the MAC, one more than Northern Illinois. Toledo has played the most with 11, followed by four teams with 10 and three with nine. Whether there was a plan for the teams to play the 20 conference games originally scheduled remained unclear.

“We don’t know at this time,” Owens said. “We’re talking about a shorter month. We hope we’re not talking about guys being put into a place where we’re playing four or five games in a week, but we’ll take each game as an opportunity. We’ll take each game on the schedule as it comes.”

The MAC’s top eight teams are scheduled to play in the conference tournament at Cleveland’s Rocket Mortgage Arena from March 10-13. That is a change from how the tournament has been conducted in recent years with all 12 teams qualifying and first-round games being played at the home arenas of the fifth- through eighth-seeded teams.

Miami’s goes into its two-game road trip relatively healthy with the return of fourth-year junior guard Isaiah Coleman-Lands, who missed Saturday’s 65-56 home win over Western Michigan with what Owens described on Monday as issues not related to COVID.

“This time of year guys are sore,” Owens said. “Everybody has bumps and bruises, but we’re in a good place. We have to do the things that are necessary to stay fresh.”

The RedHawks now aren’t scheduled to play at home until Feb. 12 against Akron, which currently is in second place in the MAC. That game, scheduled for a 7 p.m. tipoff, was moved up from Feb. 13 in order to be televised nationally on ESPNU.

That is the first of two games Miami is scheduled to play against the Zips, including the regular-season finale on March 5 at Akron. Miami also is scheduled to play two games against Kent State, currently sixth in the MAC with a 5-4 record. Also still on the RedHawks’ schedule are games on Feb. 16 at first-place Toledo and a visit to 10th-place Northern Illinois on Feb. 20. The RedHawks already own a 70-58 home win over Northern Illinois.

Those games, of course, are in addition to any of the makeup games that the MAC might try to squeeze in over the last five weeks of the regular season.

Owens hopes his team can continue to overcome those distractions and focus on getting better. He was disappointed in his team’s ball movement on Saturday.

“On both sides of ball, as coaches, we want perfection,” he said. “That last ball game, the ball was sticking, for whatever reason. We’ve got to get back to sharing. There are areas where we can continue to improve.”


Miami at Kent State, 6 p.m., ESPN3, 980, 1450

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