Miami drops MAC home game to Kent State

OXFORD -- This is how bad Miami’s men’s basketball season is going.

Mekhi Lairy missed a free throw.

The RedHawks’ senior guard went into their Mid-American Conference game against Kent State on Tuesday with a streak of 29 consecutive made free throws, dating back to their 79-67 non-conference loss on Nov. 27 at Western Illinois. He was leading the MAC with a .938 free throw percentage.

The 5-foot-8 Lairy was fouled while scoring with 4:48 left in the first half on Tuesday, but his free throw rattled out, summing up Miami’s night.

The Golden Flashes led by as many as 26 points in the first half and 30 early in the second half on the way to a 78-65 win before a crowd of 1,930 at Millett Hall. The loss was the RedHawks’ third straight and fourth in the last five games.

This was the second consecutive game in which the RedHawks put together a spirited second-half surge after trailing by significantly at halftime. During Saturday’s 85-75 loss at Eastern Michigan, the Eagles led, 55-28, at halftime, only to see Miami outscore them, 47-30, in the second half.

“We have to get better,” fifth-year coach Jack Owens said. “The last two games, we dug holes that were too huge to dig out of.”

Miami trailed by 30 in the first three minutes of the second half before reeling off 17 unanswered points, eight by sophomore forward Kamari Williams, who capped the run with back-to-back 3-pointers.

“The last two games, he’s gotten more comfortable,” Owens said. “We hope he builds off of that.”

The 6-foot-7 Williams and 6-7 freshman forward Curtis Harrison IV both made their second career starts. Senior forward Dalonte Brown, Miami’s leading rebounder, missed his second consecutive game with an ankle injury he suffered early in the RedHawks’ 81-64 loss on Jan. 25 at Ball State.

“He’s not ready to go,” Owens said about Brown, who’s stuck at No. 11 on the program’s career scoring list. “We don’t know when he’ll be ready. This is an opportunity for other guys to step up and showcase what they can do.”

Junior guard Dae Dae Grant led Miami (9-11, 3-6 MAC) with 18 points. Williams set a single-game career high with 14 points. Grant, Williams and senior forward Precious Ayah share the team lead with six rebounds.

The RedHawks have lost three straight games and four of their last five.

The RedHawks have an unusual weekend coming up. For the first time since the 1966-1967 season and only the 18th in the 117-season history of Miami basketball, the RedHawks will play on Friday and Sunday back-to-back regular-season games against the same opponent.

A combination of pandemic protocols and television prompted schedule adjustments that now have Miami scheduled to play at Akron on Friday with a 6:30 p.m. tipoff, followed by a Zips visit to Miami on Sunday for a 4 p.m. tipoff. Sunday’s game is the first of three consecutive RedHawk home games.

The last time Miami played back-to-back regular-season games against the same team was on Feb. 18, 1967, against Marshall and four days later on Feb. 22 at Marshall.

Kent State went into the game fourth in the overall MAC standings. Miami was ninth.

Tuesday’s game is the only one between the two teams in the regular season.

Kent State (12-9, 7-4) led the entire game and quickly took command with a 15-2 run for a 17-3 lead with six minutes into the game. The Golden Flashes went 8-for-13 on 3-pointers (.615) while leading by as many as 26 points – one point short of matching the largest halftime faced by Miami this season, 27 on Saturday.

Miami turned the ball over eight times, allowing the Golden Flashes to build a 17-2 lead in points off turnovers by halftime. The RedHawks went into the game averaging only 9.8 turnovers per game.

“We’ve just got to get better at stopping this and not letting it happen,” junior guard Dae Dae Grant said. “We have to make this the last game.”

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