Sophomore guard Mekhi Lairy’s pass sailed high over the head of a leaping Dalonte Brown, landing smack in the lap of Miami University President Gregory Crawford.
As Brown headed back upcourt, the 6-foot-7 junior forward reminded Lairy, with a smile, that “I’m not 6-10.”
He could enjoy some levity at that point. The RedHawks were leading Bradley by 21 points on the way to a surprisingly easy 71-55 win on Saturday before a crowd of 1,011 at Millett Hall.
Junior guard Nike Sibande, hobbled recently by an ankle injury, scored 18 points and tied his single-game career high with 11 rebounds to lead Miami (6-6), which had lost five its six previous games. Dalonte Brown added 12 points for the RedHawks, who never trailed and faced just one tie while leading the Braves by as many as 23 points.
“I feel good,” said Sibande, who logged just over 28 minutes. “I was just ready to come out and do all I could. If it wasn’t on the scoreboard, then by being there for my teammates and talking.”
“I’d say he’s about 70-75 percent,” third-year coach Jack Owens said. “We had a walkthrough this morning, and there are still certain cuts he can’t make.”
The win in Miami’s first game against the defending Missouri Valley Conference tournament champions left the RedHawks 2-1 against MVC teams this season. Miami also knocked off Drake before losing at Evansville.
Owens felt the seeds to Saturday’s win were planted in Wednesday’s 70-46 loss at Louisville. The RedHawks felt as if they were in that game for most of the night before the Cardinals pulled away down the stretch.
“It was great to see the guys put it together on the both sides of the ball for 40 minutes,” Owens said, adding that it will make his Christmas “much sweeter.” “We’re getting healthy. We’ve been able to practice together for two weeks.”
If this wasn’t Miami’s best game of the season, Owens described it as among the top three, the Drake win on Nov. 25 and one at Purdue Fort Wayne on Nov. 13
“I’m doom-and-gloom after a loss,” Owens said. “It takes me a couple of days to get over it. It was nice to see us play a complete game with focus and attention to detail. This game and Drake and Purdue Fort Wayne, when we didn’t have Bam Bowman, are our three best games.
“That’s a big win for us,” Sibande said. “They won their tournament last year. That’s a real confidence-booster for us.”
Miami is off until facing Wilberforce on Dec. 30 at 2 p.m. at Millett Hall in the final non-conference regular-season game of the season.
Bradley (8-4) was playing its first game without leading scorer and rebounder Elijah Childs, who is expected to miss 3-6 weeks with a right hand injury. The 6-foot-7 junior forward is averaging 14.5 points and 9.4 rebounds per game. The Braves didn’t help themselves at the free throw line, where they were just 13-of-26 for a season-low 50 percent.
Sibande and freshman guard Dae Dae Grant each scored six points in the first half, during which Miami enjoyed a 12-point lead before the Braves put together a 9-3 run to cut the RedHawks’ lead to 30-27 at halftime. Sibande scored one more point in the first half than he managed to squeeze out in Miami’s previous two games, when he was limited to a combined 21 minutes.
The RedHawks opened the second half with a 9-1 run, sparked by five straight points by redshirt-freshman guard Myja White and followed with four straight from Brown. Sibande’s 3-pointer gave Miami its first 23-point lead, 66-43 with 5:42 left, and his two free throws with 2:26 left the RedHawks leading, 71-48.
Miami shot 58.3 percent (7-of-12) on 3-pointers after halftime.
“I feel like we’re getting into a rhythm,” Sibande said. “Every team goes through shooting slumps. Hopefully, you come through it. If we keep shooting like that, the sky’s the limit.”
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